From first round pick to top prospect to bust in just a few years, the Keston Hiura story didn't end the way anyone anticipated. Former Brewers infielder Keston Hiura has elected free agency after spending the entirety of the 2023 season in the minor leagues.
The rise was as meteoric as the fall. The Brewers drafted Keston Hiura with the 9th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft out of UC Irvine. He was regarded as one of the best pure hitters in the class and was going to be the crown jewel of the Brewers rebuild alongside Corey Ray, another prospect who didn't pan out. Hiura, however, seemed different.
Hiura dominated every level along the way, quickly moving up the system and making his MLB debut in the 2019 season, forcing out Travis Shaw as he struggled that year. Hiura hit .303/.368/.570 with 23 doubles, 19 homers, and a 138 OPS+ in his rookie season. This was what was expected and he was expected to continue to hit for average and power.
Instead, what followed could not have been anticipated. The shortened 2020 season caused problems for many, including Hiura. He led the team in homers with 13, but also led the league in strikeouts and hit just .212 with a .707 OPS. But there were so many odd things with that year that there wasn't much to be concerned about.
Then, in 2021, when things were back to normal in baseball, Hiura just couldn't get going again. He struggled out of the gate, hitting just .152 with one homer and a .513 OPS through May 2nd before he was optioned down to Triple-A to figure out his struggles. Hiura was never again an everyday player for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Hiura dominated Triple-A for a couple weeks, came back up, then hit a paltry .069 with a .232 OPS over the next few weeks, tallying just two hits in 29 ABs. Then he was optioned again, then came up again, then optioned again and Hiura was just not able to get back in the good graces of Craig Counsell and become an everyday player.
The strikeouts were too much. Hiura went from a 30% K rate his rookie season to 34% in 2020, then 39% whiff rate in 2021, followed by a 41% K rate in 2022.
Hiura struggled against lefties, which is a problem as a right handed hitter when that's the opportunities you'll get in a platoon.
Compounding the problem for Hiura trying to stay in the lineup, the bat was the carrying tool of his profile. Hiura's defense was sub-par at second base and at first base. He wasn't much worth carrying in the lineup for his glove, he was only there because of his bat and his bat wasn't producing. If he was passable defensively, the Brewers would've been more able to stick with him through his offensive struggles.
The Brewers designated Hiura for assignment at the end of spring training in 2023 as it became clear he wasn't going to make the roster. He was out of minor league options and the Brewers had to go in a different direction. Hiura stayed in the organization at Triple-A all season, putting up great numbers, but the Brewers never gave him another opportunity in the big leagues.
Because of that, Hiura had the opportunity to elect free agency this offseason and he did. Now Hiura will be on the open market and some other team will give him an opportunity. It became clear that Hiura needed a change of scenery and the Brewers weren't able to give it to him over the last year. Now he'll find it for himself.
Hiura is a very talented hitter. The talent is still in there that made him the 9th overall pick. The Brewers just couldn't get it out of him and now they won't be able to get anything for him. If he goes elsewhere and thrives like the 2019 version of himself, the Brewers will be left wondering where they went wrong.