A representative from a certain college rival of University of California-Irvine recalls a recent series in which there was a simple game plan: stop Keston Hiura, the Anteaters' slugger who is expected to be taken in the high rounds of the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft.
The pitchers were instructed to not let Hiura beat them, but he beat them anyway, and this seems to be a recurring theme. Hiura's bat has spoken loudly and figures to speak again on Monday when all the names are called.
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"He's certainly getting recognized as an elite hitter, which he is, but he is more than that," says Hiura's college coach, the legendary former USC skipper Mike Gillespie. "All of the intangibles are A-plus. He's a bright guy, he's articulate, he's team-oriented, he's unselfish, he's a great teammate, work ethic's great. … Whoever gets him, they're going to love him as a person."
They're also going to have some things to weigh, such as Hiura's current health situation and where he projects on the field as a defender once he gets to professional ball. An elbow injury limited Hiura to designated hitter duties this past season, so there is concern that he might need the Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. And will he end up a second baseman or an outfielder if he makes it to the Majors?
Judging from mock Drafts by experts that have often had Hiura ticketed for somewhere smack in the middle of the first round, these concerns aren't too great. Not when you can swing the bat like Hiura.
"All my life I've been able to hit well," Hiura says. "Not always for power, but just hit the ball hard and make solid contact and see where it goes. But I'm looking forward to not only hit at the professional level but make a name for myself defensively as well.
"I kind of pride myself on being an all-around type of player, but also a lot goes into your mental side -- the approach of how you're going to play your game, how you conduct yourself, the way you go about your business, I feel, is very important to get to the next level. It kind of separates you from other people."
Hiura has always had to prove himself. He's roughly 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, not the typical slugging big leaguer profile. But he's made up for it with uncanny plate discipline and more than enough pop.
"He's not a little guy," Gillespie says. "He's just not 6-3 and 220. But he's a really good hitter. He has strength, he has bat speed, he recognizes pitches pretty well. He manages the strike zone quite well. And he has power. At a tick under 6 foot and 190 pounds, he can hit the ball out of the park, and he can hit the ball out of the park as a pro. So he's a bona fide Major League hitting prospect."
When asked about which position he'll play, Gillespie says he doesn't foresee it being an issue.
"I surmise, it's my best guess, that he's going to get sent out as a second baseman," Gillespie says.
"If they have to make a position change, he would in all likelihood play left field. He's played center field for us, and he's not considered a center fielder for professional baseball because he's not a burner in terms of foot speed, but he runs well, and he's played very, very good center field for us. There's been no ball not getting caught that should have been caught when he's played out there."
As for Hiura, the big day can't come soon enough. He says he's been preparing himself for it and that he's ready to commit to the tireless pursuit of excellence no matter where he might end up.
"It's every kid's dream to be drafted by a Major League team and to have the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world and make your way up to The Show," Hiura says. "I'm really looking forward to it. I feel that I'm ready to compete and make a name for myself.
"I've always prided myself to focus on the present, on what we do now in this moment is really what's going to dictate what happens in the future. So every game that goes by, I'm looking to work hard and play my best and give my 100 percent effort the whole time. My actions and results … they'll show what type of player I'll be."