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ADP Champ or Chump Spotlight: Keston Hiura

keston hiura fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers

With the entire MLB world in a holding pattern due to Coronavirus concerns, now is a great time to delve more deeply into fantasy profiles than you ever have before. One player who warrants a closer look is Keston Hiura, the 23-year-old second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers. Hiura was a regular on top prospect lists before his big league debut, peaking as the number-six prospect according to Baseball Prospectus last season. Scouts noted that he possessed a combination of “plus-plus hit tools” and plus-power that led to his being named a future All-Star before he even played a single inning.

Fantasy owners were expecting Hiura to hit the ground running in the Show, and he did. Hiura enjoyed a great rookie year, hitting .303/.368/.570 with 19 HR and nine steals in 348 MLB PAs. It's obvious why fantasy owners would be interested in a .300 hitter who approaches 40 HR and 20 SB over a full season, but there is no guarantee that Hiura's outstanding pedigree will translate to continued growth in 2020.

It can be exciting to own “breakout” players, but paying for a breakout before it happens can lead to a hemorrhage of value that it can be tough to make up for elsewhere. It's worth noting that Hiura was a completely different player in 2019 than he had been in earlier years, as he shifted from a speed and contact profile to a more power-focused hitter. Both versions of Hiura have red flags that may make it difficult for him to return value on his current FantasyPros ADP of 50.0.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Hiura on the Farm

Hiura earned his first taste of the High Minors after slashing .320/.382/.529 with seven homers and four steals (six CS) in 228 PAs at High-A in 2018, but his season line didn't jump off of the page for fantasy purposes. He hit .272/.339/.416 with six homers and 11 SB (five CS) over 307 PAs for Double-A Biloxi. The speed was exciting, but the combined success rate of about 58% is considerably lower than you'd like to see.

Likewise, Hiura didn't show any knack for lifting the baseball (19.6 LD%, 34.6 FB%) or raw power (8.1% HR/FB). The latter is particularly concerning given that Biloxi finished in the 64th percentile for HR in 2019, suggesting that his environment should have improved his power numbers. His plate discipline was fine (7.2 BB%, 18.2 K%), but his 10.8 SwStr% was a little bit high for someone who is relying on contact as their primary skill.

Nevertheless, the Brewers decided to start Hiura at Triple-A San Antonio to begin the 2019 campaign. He performed much better across the board, hitting .329/.407/.681 with 19 HR and seven steals (two CS) in 243 PAs. His SwStr% spiked to 13.9%, suggesting that he was swinging harder to add more power to his profile. It worked, as his HR/FB jumped to 36.5%. Unfortunately, he didn't add any more loft (18.1 LD%, 34.9 FB%) to make the most of his newfound power stroke.

It can be easy to think that Hiura's power spike was the growth that scouts always expected from him, but there's another possibility to consider. Triple-A adopted the same nitro-charged baseball used in the majors last season, and Triple-A San Antonio ranked in the 84th percentile for HR across the MiLB landscape last year. Amazingly, that was tied with Nashville for the lowest mark in the Pacific Coast League. Hiura played in an extremely hitter-friendly environment both home and away, a fact that may have masked the 45 Game Power scouting grade FanGraphs gave him before 2019.

 

Hiura's MLB Debut

The combination of a higher SwStr% and HR/FB on the farm suggests that Hiura sold out for power, an approach that he took with him to Milwaukee. His Statcast power indicators were good (95.1 mph average airborne exit velocity, 91.4 mph overall exit velocity, 13.9% Brls/BBE, 8.4 Brl%), allowing Hiura to post a HR/FB of 24.1%. His FB% also increased to 38%, though was still lower than you'd like to see from a slugger. He also pulled relatively few of his fly balls (12.7%), forcing him to work harder for his homers. Considering we know that there was a nitro-charged baseball at the MLB level as well, giving Hiura full credit for his power numbers seems ill-advised.

Opposing pitchers were also able to take full advantage of Hiura's increased willingness to swing and miss. His plate discipline at the big league level was terrible (30.7 K%, 7.2 BB%), and he struck out at roughly equivalent rates in the first (31.8 K%) and second (30.3%) halves. Particularly concerning is a 17.5 SwStr%. The chart below lists the top 12 highest SwStr% marks last season (minimum 300 PAs):

You'll note that the list is Javier Baez, Hiura, and fantasy busts. You can also see that Hiura misses pitches in the strike zone approximately 25 percent of the time, meaning you can beat him both inside and outside the zone. Quite frankly, it would be stunning for Hiura to hit .260 if these metrics repeat, to say nothing of the .303 he hit last season.

It worked last season because Hiura posted a .402 BABIP, but nobody's that good over a full year. His 24 LD% wasn't supported by his minor league history, so we can expect regression there. Furthermore, his .342 BABIP on ground balls was higher than most elite speedsters, a fact that seems particularly unsustainable considering Hiura's average Statcast Sprint Speed (26.9 ft./sec).

Baseball Savant's xStats say that Hiura deserved a BA of .266 last season, a number that falls further if his inflated LD% doesn't repeat. Similarly, his .530 xSLG was a full 40 points below his actual mark of .570 before any line drive regression is considered. That's a lot of potential downside for a player who is generally taken within the top 50.

 

Conclusion

Hiura's K% is atrocious, and there is a compelling case that his power last season had more to do with his environment than anything he can control. Even the steals are questionable considering his lack of elite speed and history of mediocre success rates on the farm. At a point in the draft where you could take more reliable middle infielders such as Whit Merrifield (47.4 ADP) for average or Jonathan Villar (51.2) for speed, selecting Hiura at his current cost makes little sense.

Verdict: Chump (based on the unsustainability of many of his 2019 numbers)

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