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Champ or Chump: Keston Hiura and Jose Ramirez


The Brewers have summoned top prospect Keston Hiura to replace the injured (and struggling) Travis Shaw on their roster, giving fantasy owners another hyped toy to play with. Unfortunately, it appears as though the excitement surrounding the 22-year-old's big league debut far outpaces his realistic output, potentially driving many owners to waste FAAB or waiver priority.

Meanwhile, owners who drafted Jose Ramirez expected elite production have received nothing close to it. Exactly who is Jose Ramirez moving forward?

Keep in mind, our Champ / Chump conclusions are based on whether we think a player will outperform their expectations. For example, a pitcher we view as "Tier 2" can be a Champ if they're seen as a Tier 3 pitcher, or they could be a Chump if they're perceived as a Tier 1 pitcher. All ownership rates are from Yahoo! leagues unless otherwise noted. Let's take a closer look at Hiura and Ramirez, shall we?

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Keston Hiura (2B, MIL)

51% Owned

Hiura, the 15th-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, had a successful big league debut on May 14 with two hits and a walk. Scouts have been raving about Hiura ever since the Brew Crew selected him ninth overall in the 2017 First Year Player's Draft, but a brief look into his High Minors history suggests that he may not yet be worthy of a substantial fantasy investment.

Hiura cracked the High Minors for the first time last season, slashing .272/.339/.416 with six homers and 11 SB (five CS) over 307 PAs at Double-A. He flashed decent plate discipline (7.2 BB%, 18.2 K%) and posted a relatively neutral .323 BABIP, but didn't hit many flies (34.6% fly ball rate) or do much with the airborne balls he had (8.1% HR/FB). Hiura's success rate on the bases was also well short of where it would need to be to run on a contending team, leaving him with a line that doesn't really move the needle in fantasy.

Hiura still graduated to Triple-A San Antonio for 2019, and he slashed a much more exciting .333/.408/.698 with 11 HR and four steals in his 147 PAs there before his big league debut. His 10.2 BB% was a little bit better, but his 27.2 K% represents nearly a 10-point jump relative to his Double-A work. His 36.5% fly ball rate was virtually a repeat, but a HR/FB spike to 35.5% (and elevated BABIP of .405) made him look much better than he actually was.

While it is possible that something clicked and Hiura is primed to enter the league as a star, the Pacific Coast League seems like a far more likely explanation for his sudden outburst. The PCL has always been a hitter's league, and the introduction of the livelier MLB ball this season has caused all offensive statistics to soar. San Antonio was a pitcher's park in the Double-A Texas League (0.683 HR factor from 2014-16), but road games and a livelier baseball seem to have conspired to give Hiura a makeshift "Coors effect."

Scouting reports may be able to shed more light on the equation. Baseball Savant gives Hiura a 70-grade hit tool, but that really doesn't jive with his elevated strikeout rate at Triple-A. FanGraphs assigns Hiura a 50-grade hit tool right now with potential to get up to 60 in the future, a forecast that seems more aligned with who he is today. There is a comparable discrepancy with his Game Power, with Baseball Savant giving him a 60 while FanGraphs assigns a 45 with 60 in the future. In short, Hiura looks like a tremendous asset in keeper and dynasty formats who nevertheless has some work to do.

This author is also concerned by his playing time, as both Travis Shaw and Mike Moustakas are unlikely to be benched at full health. The Brewers also hit him seventh in his big league debut, a lineup role that doesn't do any favors to his fantasy value. Hiura is a must-own asset in keeper leagues and an adequate roster patch in the near-term, but it says here that it won't click right away for him. That Triple-A strikeout rate is simply too high to project immediate success.

Verdict: Chump (based on hype relative to realistic performance at first)

 

Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, CLE)

99% Owned

To date, Ramirez's surface stats have been awful: .195/.290/.312 with four homers and 10 SB. This is not what fantasy owners were expecting when they spent a first-round pick on Cleveland's superstar, and at this point doubt is probably creeping in. Thankfully, Ramirez is better than this, though probably not quite as good as his 2018 (.270/.387/.552 with 39 HR, 34 SB).

Ramirez's pop is completely missing in action, so let's start there. He has increased his FB% each year since 2014, going from 28.4 to 36.2 to 36.3 to 39.7 to 45.9 to 47.3 in that time frame. Since he currently sports a career-best FB%, that's not why he stopped hitting for power. Similarly, his 93.3 mph average airborne exit velocity is Ramirez's second-highest mark in the Statcast Era, handily beating his 2018 mark (92.4 mph). A lack of oomph isn't the problem either. Ramirez pulls a solid 27.9% of his flies (28.6% career), providing another metric that looks similar to his history.

Somehow it has only added up to a 6.6% HR/FB (16.9% last season, 10.8% career). His rate of Brls/BBE (7.7%) is down relative to 2018's 8.5% mark, but the difference isn't that stark. Baseball Savant's xStats have Ramirez as deserving a slugging percentage of .436 vs. his actual .312 mark, so owners have to be patient. Pushing 40 long balls again is probably not in the cards, but his volume of flies and decent raw power should land comfortably in the 25-30 range for the foreseeable future.

Ramirez's .195 batting average might be even more puzzling. A quick glance at his profile reveals that the problem is a microscopic .206 BABIP (.287 career), and there are a lot of contributing factors. Guys with extreme fly ball profiles tend to post lower BABIPs, so regressing Ramirez to .300 is almost certainly incorrect. However, there is no obvious reason for his BABIP on line drives to be .440 (.656 career). Similarly, his LD% of 19.4 is a hair shy of his career 21 percent rate. LD% is a notoriously fickle stat especially in small sample sizes, so regression should be expected here.

Ramirez has also been shifted in 94 of 126 opportunities despite the fact that his 55.8% pull rate on grounders is nowhere near high enough to justify it. His .256 BABIP on grounders is actually higher than his career mark of .245, so he appears to be making use of the extra space. He's currently not hitting whether the shift is on (.204) or not (.219), but Ramirez figures to get a lot more singles soon if opposing teams keep treating him as a dead pull hitter.

Ramirez also still boasts strong plate discipline numbers, walking at a 10.8% clip against a strikeout rate of 14.2%. Both his chase rate (27.4% vs. 25.5% career) and SwStr% (6.7 vs. 5.1%) are slightly worse than his norms, but neither could be called a problem with a straight face.

Ramirez is 10-for-12 on the bases in 2019, so his running game is exactly what his owners were expecting. He also continues to hit second or third in Cleveland's lineup despite his struggles, so the counting stats should be there when he rights the ship. It's tough, but selling Ramirez for pennies on the dollar is simply not the right thing to do.

Verdict: Champ (based on likelihood he rebounds to a 20+ HR pace with speed)

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