The Case Against Keston Hiura
I have been playing in dynasty leagues since the 1990's, and one of the hardest lessons for me to learn was to control my excitement of young players. After grasping that, the next lesson was to stop loving every player and to learn to sometimes be neutral, and also sometimes to take a stand and fade fully, or even hate. Then, finally, hopefully you can get to the point where you can change your mind, sometimes even admitting you are wrong. With Keston Hiura, my position has been full fade, remains full fade, but I see a new angle which I have to take into consideration.
California native Hiura was drafted ninth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers out of UC-Irvine in 2017 on the coattails of a .375 career NCAA batting average. He was named the #47 overall prospect in 2018 by Baseball America, receiving 55 and even 60 grades across both the hit and power tools. He moved up to their #17 overall in 2019 and made his MLB debut in that year.
Hiura went absolutely ballistic in the minors. In less than two seasons, he hit .317 with a .928 OPS over 865 at bats, showing a valuable combination of speed, power, and hit tool. Fantasy players took notice and broke their FAAB banks when he was called up in May 2019. Hiura burst on the season with a fantastic rookie season. Behind only 79 games started, Hiura had the third highest rookie homerun total in club history, behind Brewers legends Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. He was the NL Rookie of the Month in July. In 348 plate appearances he gave us the following gaudy numbers:
96% Hard hit rate
92% Barrel %
Fantasy owners were smitten with him and rewarded him with a 2020 ADP of 50. This means that in most situations, Hiura was the SECOND hitter drafted on to fantasy teams. An owner who did that obviously did not see the 30.7% K rate and 36.2 Whiff % before making the selection. Any analyst with a Sabermetric card in their wallet could see the inevitable negative regression and easy fade, but somehow the drafting fantasy community turned a blind eye and over drafted him universally.
2020 hit us all hard, but it hit Hiura like a ton of bricks. The swing and miss got worse, his 85 strikeouts brought up the rear in the National League. The BABIP dropped to .273, yielding a .212 AVG. He only provided 9 homeruns and stole a mere 3 bases. To make matters worse, Hiura showed incapable of handling second base, with a terrible -2 Outs Above Average. He was relegated to DH ten times in a 60 game season, and the Brewers this offseason were forced to take action.
Despite all of this, Hiura is being drafted as the fifth 2B overall, with an ADP of 65. Despite being an enormous draft bust in 2020, his terrible results have only dropped him one round of ADP, two rounds before Jeff McNeil and nearly 4 rounds before Jose Altuve, both of whom will better Hiura by at least fifty points of batting average. However, the Brewers DID take notice, and went out and signed defensive wizard Kolton Wong to play second base. As of this moment, there will be no designated hitter in the National League, leaving Hiura to slide to first base in hopes of hiding his defensive issues.
So where is the positive? Where is the evidence to sway my opinion and admit I may have to change my stance? I wanted to believe the stolen bases would play at 1B and make him more valuable. Taking Steamer projections from Fangraphs for 2021, Hiura's rank among first basemen projected for more than 100 games played would be 18th in average at .252(generous), 10th in HR with 29(generous), 3rd in SB with 11, 16th in runs with 77, and 12th in RBI with 85., but nothing about this shows me a 1B #1, and the position will add Andrew Vaughn and Triston Cassas to its inventory next year. There is simply no justification for drafting Keston Hiura inside of the top 100.