One of the more intriguing collegiate prospects eligible for June’s MLB Amateur First-Year Player Draft ranks in the top-17 nationally in five important offensive categories – including No. 1 in on-base percentage – and was both a Perfect Game/Rawlings College Baseball 2017 Preseason and Midseason First Team All-American.
University of California Irvine’s Keston Hiura has twice been named to the Golden Spikes Award Preseason and Midseason Watch Lists, and for three years has been one of the Big West Conference’s – and the country’s – most consistent and prolific hitters.
He is projected to be a first-round pick by everyone responsible for providing those projections, and Perfect Game ranks him the No. 18 overall (college, juco, high school) prospect in the draft. The tool that has members of the national scouting community licking their chops is his ability to put the bat on the ball – simply put, the kid can flat-out hit.
“It’s the bat that has created the position that he’s in as it relates to what could happen in the draft,” veteran UC Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie told PG almost matter-of-factly during a telephone conversation earlier this week.
But what really makes the 5-foot-11, 190-pound, 20-year-old Hiura such an intriguing draft prospect is that he has not fielded a ball off the infield grass or caught a flyball in the outfield in live game action since April 2016.
That was when he felt some discomfort in this right (throwing) elbow after making a throw from centerfield, and learned later that he sprained his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL), an injury that has limited his ability to throw the ball. It’s an issue that sent him into the role of designated hitter for the second half of the Anteaters’ 2016 season and has kept him at that position this season.
“it didn’t really bother me to hit, and that’s what ultimately led me to being the DH the rest of the season and into the summer,” Hiura explained during a separate telephone conversation this week.
He began to throw again at the end of October and was pleased as the day is long to find out everything was feeling just fine. And then, right at the end of the fall practice session in November, he re-sprained the elbow while making a throw, and he was back to being a full-time DH again.
“It was a little frustrating … but like I said, it never bothered me to hit and I knew that was my best (tool) as a baseball player,” Hiura said without a hint of resignation in his voice.
Doctors have told him that the injury will not require surgery and every MLB team’s front office is aware of that. He received a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection in January to aid the healing process and has been told his prognosis for a complete recovery is excellent. Now, it’s just a matter of time before he can once again start a throwing program.
Hiura was an infielder in high school and moved to the outfield when he got to UC Irvine; most people, himself included, think he will play second base at the professional level. In the meantime, he has turned himself into one the best designated hitters in college baseball, and has done so simply by making the right adjustments whenever they were required.
“Last year when I began DH’ing, it was a lot tougher than I imagined; I give a lot of designated hitters credit for being very successful at what they do,” he said. “You’re only there to hit and you might have a bad at-bat … and then you have to sit two or three innings before you get another at-bat, so you can’t automatically go out on the field and forget about your (bad) at-bat.