Facing career crossroads, Hiura reworking swing

March 20th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- didn’t attempt to sugarcoat his Cactus League stat line.

“Obviously,” he said Monday morning, “I’ve had better springs.”

His tough camp comes as Hiura approaches a career crossroads. He’s out of Minor League options. He doesn’t have a clear spot on the field. At first base, the position Hiura has manned most the past two years, the Brewers have and, if they give him a 40-man roster spot, right-handed slugger .

That makes this a critical spring for Hiura as he attempts to stick with the organization that drafted him ninth overall in 2017. After going 1-for-4 with a two-run double and a pair of strikeouts as the designated hitter in Monday’s 7-2 loss to the Mariners, Hiura has a .156/.229/.219 slash line and 15 strikeouts in his first 32 Cactus League at-bats. In each of his first two at-bats Sunday against the Reds, Hiura struck out on three pitches.

“I’ve had better springs statistically, but I still feel fine with where I’m at,” Hiura said. “I think every Spring Training is all about health. Make sure you’re feeling strong and confident playing all nine innings.”

There’s been another project this spring. Over the past two weeks or so, Hiura has brought back a toe tap designed to help keep his weight back during his swing.

But as a result, his timing has been out of whack.

“That’s what my swing is all about, timing and rhythm,” Hiura said. “If I’m not on time, then it’s going to be hard for me to compete up there. I’m trying to work that out. That’s what Spring Training is for, to get those reps.”

Time is getting short. The Brewers and Voit already agreed once to delay a decision on his status; he has an opt-out on Friday if he’s not added to the 40-man roster. At the same time, the Brewers are figuring out their Opening Day outfield. Those decisions will have a trickle-down effect for Hiura.

“It’s a big camp for Keston, and we have to make a decision pretty soon here,” manager Craig Counsell said. “Performance factors into it, but a lot of other things factor into it as well. The great thing about spring is that what you see as a performance can change really fast. We’re 30 plate appearances in. He can still have a great spring.”

It’s no secret what Hiura must improve. He’s always had some swing and miss in his game, especially at higher levels of pro ball. In 2019 when he was breaking out in Triple-A, Hiura had a 26.3 percent strikeout rate. That’s grown in the Majors, from 30.7 percent in 2019 to 34.6 percent in ‘20 to 39.1 percent in ‘21 to 41.7 percent last season. Among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances over those four years, only Joey Gallo and Miguel Sanó have a higher strikeout rate than Hiura’s 36 percent.

What do they bring to counteract their swing and miss? Big power.

“Keston is going to swing and miss; he has to get to the damage, though,” Counsell said. “That’s kind of how it works. A lot of times for players like that, it’s a streaky thing. It can not look good, and then all of a sudden, it looks great. He wins you a bunch of games for a couple of weeks. That’s kind of the reality of who he is as an offensive player. That’s the evaluation we have to make.”

While he works on his swing, Hiura is acutely aware of the other things that matter in life. He threw a surprise 60th birthday party just before the start of Spring Training for his mother, Janice, who remains in remission following a cancer battle. Mom and the rest of the family just visited Hiura in Phoenix last weekend.

“If you know her, she’s actually the one throwing all the events and doing things for other people,” Hiura said. “To be able to do that for her, and have a bunch of people from back home in Hawaii or from up north [in California] come down and see her and surprise her, it definitely brought a lot of happy tears to a lot of people.”

That’s the stuff which is most important.

“You only can control the controllables,” Hiura said. “Every offseason, every player goes and works on what they believe are their weaknesses, or what they feel they need to work on, or even their strengths. Those are things you can control. How you play on the field is going to determine what’s going to happen.”