Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next up is UC Irvine second baseman/outfielder Keston Hiura, a native of Valencia, California. Hiura posted video-game numbers in college, hitting .330 as a freshman, .358 as a sophomore and a ridiculous .442 with eight homers in 56 games as a junior. Considered a candidate for Tommy John surgery before the season due to an elbow injury, Hiura appeared strictly at DH for the Anteaters this season in an effort to heal his arm.
Hiura is likely to go in the 15-24 range in Monday’s draft, with Baseball America (15-Astros) MLB.com (24-Red Sox) and ESPN (24-Red Sox) all pegging him within that range and BA confidently stating that Houston “will pounce on him” if he’s available at No. 15.. Be sure to check out Hiura’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
When did you first get into baseball and realize you loved playing the game?
“I started playing baseball around 5 or 6 years old. At that age, I played a bunch of other sports: soccer, basketball and golf. But I think baseball really stuck out for the most part. Baseball was a really big sport back in Santa Clarita and I made a lot of friends through that. Over the years, playing PONY baseball at William S. Hart [Regional Park in Santa Clarita], that really stuck out to me more than other sports.”
Growing up, what was your favorite team? Favorite player?
“I’m a big L.A. guy so I’m a pretty big Dodgers fan. I support the Dodgers, Lakers and now the Rams. I was able to go to a lot of Dodger games throughout my 20 years, and I really enjoyed going to those games and the atmosphere there. I never really had a favorite player. For me, it was just following the Dodgers and the players on that team were people that I enjoyed watching.”
Was there a turning point moment in your career when you realized you could become a professional and potentially be a first-rounder?
“I think that really didn’t happen until college hit. In high school, I talked to some teams about the draft but it wasn’t anything serious. I was really set on going to college. It wasn’t until freshman or sophomore year when I really understood that the potential for having a career in baseball. Obviously, this past summer with Team USA is when it really clicked that I had the potentially to go pretty high in the draft. Being on a team with all those great players around the country and competing against other countries as well, that really stuck out to me and gave me a little confidence. It gave me an idea that good things may happen in the upcoming draft.”
The big question heading into this draft is your elbow injury, which has limited you to strictly designated hitter duties all season. Where do things stand with that right now?
“The elbow feels fine. I still haven’t thrown yet, but that’s just a personal decision the way the season was going. Certain players needed to play in certain positions. Ultimately, I didn’t want to rush back into it and hurt myself. If I did end up hurting myself, that would take me away from hitting as well. I wanted to play, so I decided just to hit the whole season and it never bothered me when I hit. I was fortunate for that to happen.”
Tommy John surgery has always been discussed as an option for you. Down the road, do you think that procedure is still possible?
“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.”
What feedback have you gotten from teams about that injury and how it affects your draft stock?
“I got put on the map for my bat. A lot of teams enjoy my bat, so a lot of the teams have told me, arm aside, ‘we still really like you and we still think really highly of you. You don’t need to worry anything about that.’”
Another big question is your position at the next level, as you’ve played second base and outfield in the past. First off, where do you see yourself playing as a professional?
“I view myself as a second baseman. I’ve played infield my whole life, and that’s where I feel most comfortable playing. I’ve worked really hard this year and the past three years at Irvine with [associate head coach] Ben Orloff at that position. That’s somewhere I really feel comfortable playing and feel like I can I can make the most plays.”
What have teams told you about where they see you playing at the next level?
“Ultimately, as you get to the next level, my goal is just to play. Whether it’s in the infield or the outfield. That was something I was actually really grateful I was able to learn, the outfield. I learned how to play the outfield my freshman year and got pretty comfortable out there. I’m pretty confident in making the plays whether it’s left, center or right. Looking at it, it’s something that I really take a plus out of, because at the next level, if you can hit, that’s what will get you up in the majors and get you in that position. I’m comfortable playing both on the dirt and in the outfield.”
What’s the biggest strength in your game?
“You’d think it’s hitting, but a big part that I think goes unnoticed is the mental side of the game. I think, at a young age, I learned how to handle things and deal with things in a certain manner that really helped me shape to be the person I am on and off the field. I think my mental side of the game is something I really pride myself on and view as a strength.”
What’s the part of your game you want to work on the most at the next level?
“I think defense. A lot of people have a lot of questions of where I’m gonna play on defense and if I’m able to handle it. I think that’s something that ultimately, I personally want to work on it as well. There’s always room to get better in every aspect of your game, but looking forward my defense is something that I’m looking to improve.”
Offensively, you’re one of the top college bats available. How did that offense develop over time?
“I’ve had the same hitting coach since I was 9 years old. His name is Sean Thompson. We’ve, over the years, hit together and he has taught me a lot of things. I think, going from then to now, that’s something that I can work off of and build off of as well as getting stronger and more mature. That’s something that really carried me throughout the years and to this level.”
If you had to pick a major-leaguer, either current or former, that’s your best comp, who would it be?
“Like I said, I never really had a favorite player growing up. I’m not gonna say that I’m my favorite player or anything, but it’s just looking forward and getting the opportunity to play at the next level is really something I want to pride myself in. I don’t know, I don’t really have an answer to that question.”
Do you have expectations as to where you’ll end up on draft day? Any goals?
“For me, it’s just getting the opportunity to be in that position is really important. Regardless of what team it is, I’m gonna be happy with where I’m at with my career and hoping to continue it as I go on.”