PHOENIX -- Logan Morrison can sit at his locker in the Brewers’ Spring Training clubhouse, turn to his left and see a string of fellow veteran players. Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun, Jedd Gyorko and Justin Smoak are all close by.
There’s also 23-year-old Keston Hiura. But Morrison doesn’t consider him a typical youngster in camp.
“This is an older team, I feel like, there are not many guys that are cutting their teeth,” Morrison said. “I guess Keston, a little bit, but not that I can tell. That guy at the plate, he’s really good.”
That’s what people have thought of Hiura since he arrived at his first big league camp in 2018, less than a year after becoming a first-round Draft pick of the Brewers. But for Hiura, this spring is much different.
In ‘18, Hiura knew he likely wasn’t going to make the team and was there to soak up the experience. In ’19, he had a greater chance of being on the Opening Day roster, but it would probably take an incredible showing. He then batted .229 in 24 Cactus League games and was sent to Triple-A San Antonio to begin the season.
This year, Hiura is Milwaukee’s starting second baseman. He raked during his first big league stint last season, batting .303/.368/.570 with 19 homers and 49 RBIs in 84 games. And although the desire to have a strong spring is still there in ‘20, Hiura doesn’t have to worry as much about trying to make the team this year.
“They were more for trying to impress, turn heads, show what I’m capable of doing,” Hiura said. “I don’t think I ever thought in those two springs like, ‘All right, what do I need to do to get ready?’ That’s kind of what the approach is this spring -- what I need to do to get ready, what I need to do to get the body ready. I’m focusing more on individual things rather than trying to impress as a whole, in a way.”
Fortunately for Hiura, there have been plenty of veteran players around Brewers camp this spring who know what it takes to prepare for the grind of a full big league season.
“The more years you have under your belt, the more of an idea you’ll get of what you need,” said Hiura, who is 9-for-25 (.360) with three homers and five RBIs in 10 Cactus League games this spring.
The Brewers have a lot of questions about their infield. How will Smoak and Braun handle a platoon at first base? Can shortstop Orlando Arcia’s hot spring carry over into the regular season, or will Luis Urías push his way into the picture? Will Gyorko and Eric Sogard adequately fill the hole at third?
Milwaukee knows what it should get from Hiura at second -- a big bat and improving defense. Hiura has put in a lot of work defensively over the past few years, and that’s continued this spring as he practices infield drills to keep getting better at footwork and improving his arm strength and accuracy.
“I’m really proud of the path that he’s on,” manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s put in a lot of work this spring, he’s been very diligent about it, it’s daily. Some of it is very basic things, it’s very foundational stuff that I think over the long run is really going to pay off for him.”
Perhaps that will translate to an even better second big league season for Hiura. Now that everybody knows what he’s capable of, he’s ready for 2020.
“This is what you play for, you play for being able to spend a whole year in the big leagues,” Hiura said. “Once we got back in the groove of things, it just got me even more excited for the season. A couple weeks away, looking forward to it. We’re a good team.”