Keston Hiura on Hitting (and Business Economics)

Keston Hiura went into the 2017 draft with a compromised throwing arm and a reputation as the best pure hitter available. Downplaying the severity of the former and embracing the latter, the Milwaukee Brewers selected the University of California, Irvine, infielder with the ninth overall pick of the first round. They’re not regretting the decision. Hiura began his professional career by slashing a healthy .371/.422/.611 in 187 plate appearances between Rookie-level ball and Low-A Wisconsin.

Just as importantly, his elbow appears sound. Hiura primarily DH’d during his initial taste of pro ball, but he played second base during his stint in instructional league. He probably could have done so earlier. When I talked to him in August, the erstwhile Anteater told me that his elbow has been back to 100% for approximately a month.

Our conversation was primarily about his offensive acumen, which is spurred by a smooth right-handed stroke honed between trips to the library. Keston Wee Hing Natsuo Hiura — his father was born in California and is of Japanese descent; his mother was born in Hawaii and is of Chinese descent — majored in business economics at UC Irvine.


Hiura on his hitting mechanics: “I have a different swing than most people. You see people with leg kicks and you see people with toe taps, and I do both. I toe tap into a leg kick — a pretty high leg kick — and then my swing is very inside-out oriented with a high finish at the end. I also finish with both hands on the bat. That helps me get quick through the zone with some good bat speed, as well as generating power with my backside. I’m able to drive the ball to all sides of the field.

“I’ve always had the toe tap, and then the leg kick kind of came in about my senior year of high school going into my freshman year of college. From there it just kind of got bigger and bigger. A lot of people weren’t really sure how it worked. I heard a lot of, ‘There’s a lot going on in that swing,’ and ‘He’s putting too much weight on his front foot’ and ‘Can he adjust to offspeed pitches?’ But it works for me. It’s more about timing than anything — timing the pitcher up and getting into a rhythm.

“[Velocity] hasn’t been an issue for me. It’s always challenging when you face higher velo, but in the end it’s the same pitch. A fastball is a fastball. I’m able to figure out when to start my swing, when to get my foot down, when to get my hands through the zone. I’m a big rhythm guy, so I time them up on the on-deck circle and go from there.”

On his approach at the plate: “I like to see pitches, but I also like to attack. Most of the time, I look fastball and adjust to offspeed. I like hitting the fastball, so if he throws one in the zone early in the at bat, I’m usually going to jump it. At the same time, I’m trying to be patient and get my pitch. I’m confident in my ability to hit with two strikes. That’s something I’ve learned to be comfortable with over the years.

“There are definitely pitches I look to hit more than others — both location and pitch type — but if it’s in the zone, I’m usually looking to hit it. I do want to cut down on my swing-and-miss. My strikeout numbers have been a little higher than I’d like, and the strikeouts come mostly when I’ve been chasing. If it’s in the zone, I’m more than capable of putting it in play.”

On his draft experience: “There were obviously a lot of questions about my elbow. The only thing I could do was hit, so I was going to do my best at that and not worry about what people were saying about my arm or which position I’d end up playing. My primary focus was on enjoying my last year at UC Irvine. Going into the draft, I just wanted to be the best player I could, and whatever happens happens.

“Were the Brewers a surprise? Yeah, a little. Going into the draft, I told myself that anything can happen — I figured any team could end up taking me — and there wasn’t a ton of talk between us and the Brewers. I’m more than happy that they were willing to give me an opportunity to play professional baseball.”

Hiura on majoring in business economics: “I’m definitely planning to finish my degree, although I don’t know the exact timetable. It depends on instructs, Arizona Fall League, and so on. Luckily, Irvine is on the quarter system so I can take classes during the fall, which aligns perfectly with the offseason. It’s just a matter of time until I’ll have an opportunity to focus on schoolwork and finish up.

“I’ve always been serious about my school work — my school career, I guess — and, going into college, business is something I knew I wanted to learn more about. The economics program at UC Irvine is a challenge that I was willing to accept. There’s always the what-if to consider. I know that if baseball doesn’t work out, having an opportunity to pursue a career in business is something I can feel confident in.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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6 years ago

Thanks for the article. I’ve been following Hiura for a bit now after having him in OOTP. I hope to see him in the majors one day!