By all accounts, one of the best bats available in the 2017 MLB draft belongs to Keston Hiura of the University of California-Irvine. His hitting draws universal praise, but despite this it is unclear where he’ll go on draft day due to uncertainty about his position and heath status. Let’s take a look.
Keston Hiura is from Valencia, California. He got some attention on the showcase circuit but was a top-notch student and destined for college, so nobody drafted him on high school graduation in 2014.
He immediately emerged as a regular at UC-Irvine, hitting .330/.392/.520 as a freshman and .358/.436/.539 as a sophomore. He also destroyed college summer ball pitching in ‘15 (.356/.439/.623) and hit .289/.356/.553 in 17 games for Team USA last summer.
Hiura has continued mashing in 2017, hitting .402/.546/.668 with 46 walks and 33 strikeouts in 169 at-bats so far. Of particular note: he’s doing this despite an elbow injury serious enough to keep him from playing on the field this year.
He’s listed at 6-0, 180, a right-handed hitter and thrower, born August 2, 1996. He doesn’t turn 21 until August, making him one of the youngest college juniors available.
The numbers aren’t lying: Hiura can hit. He draws unanimous praise for his combination of bat speed and refined hitting approach, projecting to hit for high averages and high OBPs with at least moderate power. He’s shown he can handle both fastballs and breaking stuff and is close to major league ready as a hitter right now.
His current elbow injury is bad enough that he’s been strictly a DH since last summer. Hiura attempted to avoid Tommy John surgery by receiving a plasma platelet injection this past winter, but it is unclear if the procedure worked or merely postponed the inevitable. The good news is that the elbow pain hasn’t impacted his hitting at all.
That said, no one is sure where he’ll fit on defense. He has experience at center field, left field, and second base, but scouts obviously haven’t been able to evaluate him recently. His running speed and throwing arm are just average and left field may be his best slot eventually.
Hiura’s bat will be ready for the majors quickly, but his timetable is uncertain due to the injury (will he need surgery?) and the glove question. Draft-wise, his exact position will depend on how teams assess his health.
He would be a certain first-round pick without the injury and may still be one even with it.
Video from rkyosh007