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Article: The Curious Case of Keston Hiura: What Will His Role Be in 2023?


Nate Palmer
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Brewer Fanatic Contributor

At one time, Keston Hiura was a highly regarded prospect of the Milwaukee Brewers.  Currently, his fit on the roster feels awkward at best. What is his role for the 2023 Brewers?

Image courtesy of © Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

As the roster stands, Keston Hiura has a spot on the 2023 Milwaukee Brewers roster. While he has a spot, his role on the team is a bit more challenging to figure out. What might be a role for Hiura in 2023, and how have the Brewers’ offseason additions affected his place on the roster?

Adding Owen Miller via trade from the Guardians may present the most direct threat to Hiura as the most obvious first baseman acquired this offseason. The additions of Jesse Winker and William Contreras’ bat also, in ways, can be counted as acquisitions that make Hiura’s place on the roster less secure. To understand where Hiura is, we may need to look back at where he has come from and why we are questioning his role and roster spot in the first place.

Hiura’s performance has contributed to it, starting with his defense. The one-time second-base prospect is now only a first baseman or designated hitter. He was moved to first base after primarily getting innings as the Brewers’ second baseman in 2019 when he put up a -6 DRS and -8 OAA and in 2020 with a -6 DRS and -2 OAA. Those defensive numbers were in consideration when the Brewers signed Kolten Wong before the 2021 season.  

Wong’s addition officially signaled Hiura’s diminished defensive value. Turning our attention to the right-hander’s offensive performance, we will find better but mixed results. Hiura’s four MLB seasons have been bookended by his two good offensive outputs, with significant down years in the middle. That inconsistency creates uncertainty about what his bat can bring in 2023 from a position requiring offensive output. Just months after signing Wong, the Brewers signaled they weren’t comfortable with what they saw offensively from Hiura. The team then acquired Rowdy Tellez in July on 2021 to help fill the Brewers’ need for offense as another first base and designated hitter option. 

That left the 2022 setup where the Brewers tried to work what looked like a lefty Tellez and righty Hiura platoon. While the Brewers tried to platoon the two players, Hiura, while right-handed, perpetually struggles against left-handed pitching. In 2022, Hiura slashed .188/.275/.344 with a .619 OPS against lefties. That was slightly below his career mark of .201/.283/.323 and a .606 OPS. Inversely, Tellez, a left-handed hitter, has a respectable career .717 OPS against left-handed pitching.

Even though Hiura has not performed well against lefties compared to his mark of .253/.332/.508 and .840 OPS against right-handers, the Brewers still chose to start Hiura against plenty of left-handers. Over last season, the Brewers played Hiura in 36 games with a left-handed starter and 31 games when a right-hander was starting. At no point did the Brewers begin phasing Hiura out against lefties either. From September 1st onward, Hiura started against ten right-handed and eight left-handed starters. 

The one thing that Hiura can be happy about this offseason is that the Brewers haven’t signed or acquired anyone to supplant him, yet, anyways. Miller isn’t much better against left-handers than Hiura, so there isn’t any immediate offense upgrade. The Brewers have Jon Singleton on the roster, and although he is a left-handed hitter with limited experience, he has hit .256/.343/.465 and a .809 OPS against lefties. 

The 26-year-old Hiura, if the season were to start today, would still fill one of those final roster spots in a bench role. He isn’t necessarily an unusable player, but the team needs to find a good right-handed hitting platoon option that can hit lefties to pair with Tellez. Hiura’s fit seems awkward at best right now. 

It may be time for the Brewers to stop waiting to see if Hiura will develop into the player they hoped him to be as a prospect and instead trade him and allow him to get a fresh start elsewhere. That would ultimately free the front office to seek out a bat to pair as a platoon with Tellez. Someone like Evan Longoria (.812 OPS against left-handed pitching in 2022) could be the type of free agent that the Brewers could pursue and would provide a skill set more suited for the current roster than Hiura. 

Do you Brewer Fanatics see a role for Hiura on the 2023 roster? What would your plan be for him moving forward? 


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25 minutes ago, Ron Robinsons Beard said:

I don't think he has a role on the team. I doubt he makes it to Spring Training as a Brewer.

I think they would have shipped him off by now if they didn’t want him…but his usage with Counsell as manager was pretty sad. Unless they are hoping some team ends up wanting him as a backup option at DH/1B/2B if they can’t find better by March.

I just for some reason doubt they would offer him arbitration unless they felt they would actually want him in some form. Unlike Wong/Renfroe, he isn’t exactly that intriguing or valuable in a trade.

 

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3 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

Hmm. I see Wil Myers signed with the Reds for a $7.5m base with incentives. Yet another bat the Brewers could have used... editing the piece to now mention Longoria, one of the only names left that interests me even a little bit.

Yeah the list of even remotely interesting free agents is almost down to none for me. Maybe a couple of bullpen arms.

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I'll always contend that Keston is a victim of the launch-angle craze.  In college and coming up, he was a line drive machine.  Screaming missiles, gap to gap.  A doubles hitter, not a home run hitter.  Changing his swing to try to increase his launch angle is to blame for his struggles more than anything.  

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42 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

Hmm. I see Wil Myers signed with the Reds for a $7.5m base with incentives. Yet another bat the Brewers could have used... editing the piece to now mention Longoria, one of the only names left that interests me even a little bit.

Wouldn't be surprised if the Brewers were in on Myers around that price range. May have just been a case of picking the Reds because there is a clearer path to playing time.

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This is what I worry about with things like launch angle. It can screw up a potentially valuable player. Yeah, Hiura was homeless defensively, but if it hadn't been for the launch-angle junk, he might have been the answer at DH.

He had his BABIP go up to .355 as opposed to .270 ish... I wonder if that was luck or maybe he went back somewhat to his line-drive type, his EV and hard hit percentages were his best since 2019. Big issue is strikeouts, and if he can put more balls in play...

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52 minutes ago, sveumrules said:

Wouldn't be surprised if the Brewers were in on Myers around that price range. May have just been a case of picking the Reds because there is a clearer path to playing time.

That's certainly possible but it'd be hard to see Myers choose the Reds over the Brewers given the level of competition of each club and the fact it's likely he's flipped to a team he doesn't choose in July.

But who knows what drives any individual free agent?

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26 minutes ago, clancyphile said:

This is what I worry about with things like launch angle. It can screw up a potentially valuable player. Yeah, Hiura was homeless defensively, but if it hadn't been for the launch-angle junk, he might have been the answer at DH.

He had his BABIP go up to .355 as opposed to .270 ish... I wonder if that was luck or maybe he went back somewhat to his line-drive type, his EV and hard hit percentages were his best since 2019. Big issue is strikeouts, and if he can put more balls in play...

Exit velocity is another.  Esteury Ruiz has a low exit velocity, so he has no future as a hitter.  But his career SLG in the minors (.457) is more than 40 points higher than William Contreras (.413).  And that doesn't include all the "single and steal second" doubles that he's capable of.

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3 hours ago, Ron Robinsons Beard said:

I don't think he has a role on the team. I doubt he makes it to Spring Training as a Brewer.

I hope you are correct … I believe it is in the best interest of both parties. I know I’m tired of seeing him strike out. His defense is horrid. An occasional breath-taking HR doesn’t offset his many deficiencies. Time for a change - hopefully a “change of scenery” type trade. 

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1 hour ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

Hmm. I see Wil Myers signed with the Reds for a $7.5m base with incentives. Yet another bat the Brewers could have used... editing the piece to now mention Longoria, one of the only names left that interests me even a little bit.

I sighed a huge sigh of frustration when I saw both the Drury & Myers #’s … both are contracts that would have fit nicely on this team & would have been reason to cheer. I’m quite under-impressed with the current roster. I hope Hiura is not in FO plans for 2023. 

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1 hour ago, sveumrules said:

Wouldn't be surprised if the Brewers were in on Myers around that price range. May have just been a case of picking the Reds because there is a clearer path to playing time.

I would have loved Myers on this team … quite disappointed that we lost out on him & Drury (assuming we were bidding on one or the other)

I fear we will have to trade away some top-level talent to secure a solid RH bat

I know there are a few months before Spring Training … but we need more offense than is currently on the 40-man roster

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52 minutes ago, clancyphile said:

This is what I worry about with things like launch angle. It can screw up a potentially valuable player. Yeah, Hiura was homeless defensively, but if it hadn't been for the launch-angle junk, he might have been the answer at DH.

He had his BABIP go up to .355 as opposed to .270 ish... I wonder if that was luck or maybe he went back somewhat to his line-drive type, his EV and hard hit percentages were his best since 2019. Big issue is strikeouts, and if he can put more balls in play...

He’s had plenty of opportunities & he’s been terrible for three years … it appears 2019 was the exception … what we’ve seen since is the norm … time for a change in scenery 

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46 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

That's certainly possible but it'd be hard to see Myers choose the Reds over the Brewers given the level of competition of each club and the fact it's likely he's flipped to a team he doesn't choose in July.

But who knows what drives any individual free agent?

Maybe the Reds guaranteed more playing time than us?

"I'm sick of runnin' from these wimps!" Ajax - The WARRIORS
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In another universe, Hiura would've been drafted by a bad team; he'd have been allowed to start everyday at 1B/DH, and been a hot commodity at the trade deadline for a contending team needing a stick.

I love him, but the gaping holes in his player profile prevent me from being able to laud his inclusion in an everyday lineup for a contender.

I also feel like he's the baseball equivalent of a "volume scorer" in basketball... he needs regular ABs to prove his worth.

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9 hours ago, Lou Buell said:

The launch angle comments may be valid, the most disturbing thing is the swings and misses for him have been in the strike zone and for a major leaguer that is rare.

Just to reiterate this point, Keston had the 4th worst Zone Contact % of any hitter with over 150PA's according to Fangraphs.

 

"I wasted so much time in my life hating Juventus or A.C. Milan that I should have spent hating the Cardinals." ~kalle8

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On 12/22/2022 at 2:22 PM, edfunderburk said:

He’s had plenty of opportunities & he’s been terrible for three years … it appears 2019 was the exception … what we’ve seen since is the norm … time for a change in scenery 

Better OPS than Adames in 2022… our star #2 hitter who we could not afford having out of that #2 spot.

And this is with jerking Hiura around positions, spot batting for large stretches against lefties instead of righties whom he destroyed last year, and then put up and down from AAA, and having desserts of playing time sitting for 4 or 5 days and getting a spot start or pinch hit. Total and complete mismanagement so Cutch can hit and underachieve pretty much all year. Just playing him regularly last year, batting him low in lineup as a DH, giving him at bats instead of Cutch gets us in the playoffs imho.

 

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1 minute ago, rickh150 said:

Just playing him regularly last year, batting him low in lineup as a DH, giving him at bats instead of Cutch gets us in the playoffs imho.

Doubtful as Hiura had short period where he was good and then was basically garbage.  In September Hiura played in 4 less games than McCutchen and only put up a 41 wRC+ while McCutchen put up a 98 wRC+.

Hiura's splits by month:

image.png.78d537002ddd590105581bc861bdc94c.png

There is a pattern here he has an unsustainable BABIP which when it crashed his results started to come crashing back down.  A .400 and .500 BABIP are not sustainable.  Hiura is probably more of a .750-.800 OPS player than he is a .900+ OPS player. 

 

As for Hiura's future it is not with the Brewers.  I fully expect him to be traded and he won't be on the Brewers OD roster. 

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23 minutes ago, rickh150 said:

Better OPS than Adames in 2022… our star #2 hitter who we could not afford having out of that #2 spot.

And this is with jerking Hiura around positions, spot batting for large stretches against lefties instead of righties whom he destroyed last year, and then put up and down from AAA, and having desserts of playing time sitting for 4 or 5 days and getting a spot start or pinch hit. Total and complete mismanagement so Cutch can hit and underachieve pretty much all year. Just playing him regularly last year, batting him low in lineup as a DH, giving him at bats instead of Cutch gets us in the playoffs imho.

 

The reason Hiura is jerked around at positions is because he's a terrible fielder....I disagree with how stubborn the team was in batting Cutch cleanup against RHP, but I don't think it was the difference in us missing the postseason. We missed the playoffs because of injuries and underperformance in our pitching, as well as a downturn in our fielding. 

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