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From the Crow’s Nest: UC Irvine IF/OF Keston Hiura

The UC Irvine product has evolved into one of the country’s best hitters

Every year, I’m always shocked at how quickly the draft sneaks up on us, and this year has been no different. In just two days, Seattle will be on the clock, hoping to find the next great Mariner amongst a pool of hundreds of names. And while the 2016 draft gave us a glimpse into the tools general manager Jerry Dipoto values in amateur players, this upcoming draft will be the first draft overseen by scouting director Scott Hunter. As they search for value with the seventeenth-overall pick, one intriguing player with just enough question marks to fall to them could be UC Irvine second baseman/outfielder Keston Hiura.

At A Glance

Born and raised in Southern California, Hiura has been a star for UC Irvine from the moment he arrived on campus. Just look at what he’s done in his three years as an Anteater:

The numbers are eye-popping, specifically that .442/.567/.693 slash line he put up over his junior campaign. College defenses are generally bad and you’ll always see sky-high BABIP (in Hiura’s case, a .516 BABIP), but you don’t put up that crazy of a line without there being some legitimacy to it. Hiura can rake, this I am sure of.

Over this three years of college ball, Hiura picked up several accolades. To name a few:

  • 2017 Golden Spikes Award semifinalist
  • 2017 Big West Player of the Year
  • 2017 National Batting Title Champion (.442 BA)
  • 2016 Golden Spikes Award watch list
  • Named to 2016 U.S. collegiate team
  • 2015 Freshman All-America team from multiple outlets (NCBWA, Collegiate Baseball ‘Louisville Slugger’)

The Rundown

As you can imagine from the description above, Hiura’s best tool is his stellar bat. He has a short, line-drive swing with tremendous bat speed and is able to generate a surprising amount of power with it.

Hiura also possesses a stellar approach at the plate and a strong understanding of the strike zone, leading many to believe he’ll be a high-average, high-OBP type with a pleasant amount of gap power to boot. Uses his hands well and is able to hit pitches up in the zone with ease.

Once you get away from the bat is when the questions arise. The biggest knock with Hiura is his injured elbow, with many feeling like Tommy John surgery is more of an inevitability than a question. During an interview with Chris Cotillo, Hiura said he’s hoping surgery isn’t necessary:

Doctors said that Tommy John isn’t necessary at all. My goal is not to get surgery and I’m hoping not to get surgery. When the time comes, I’ll be in throwing again. Ultimately, that’ll give me the indication of how my arm feels moving forward, either into surgery or more injections or what-not. As of right now, I feel fine. When the time comes and I get throwing, that’ll ultimately decide what to do.

As far as positions go, His future seems to likely be at either second base or outfield. It’s been so long since Hiura has played defense that it’s difficult to say how valuable or how ready he is in that aspect, but he has enough athleticism to handle either position and his glove was never considered a liability at any point when healthy.

How likely is he to be available when the Mariners pick?

This one is tricky, because he’s probably a lock for the top-fifteen if not for the elbow concerns. If one of those teams finds themselves patient enough to wait out any potential surgery-caused delay, Hiura is probably gone. That being said, there’s a ton of meat in this section of the class, enough so where you could easily see teams opting for sixteen players over the position-less Hiura. I like his chances of reaching the 17th pick, but at the end of the day it only takes one big, stupid, jerk-face of a team to rip the rug out from under you.