Batter’s Box: Testin’ Keston
It has been a bit of a roller coaster of a season so far for top Brewers’ prospect Keston Hiura. With the addition of Mike Moustakas in the offseason and Travis Shaw already with two solid seasons behind him, there was a difficult path ahead for Hiura to make any form of major league debut until much later in the season. However, a couple of important things happened early on this season to push these dominoes over sooner than expected. First, Shaw injured his wrist (and couldn’t hit). Second, Hiura was dominating in his first season in AAA. Hiura made his debut on May 14th with a couple of hits. He continued playing regularly until June 3rd, as Shaw was coming off the IL. Over that time he was hitting well as a rookie. A 122 wRC+ in his first 17 games is promising and many fans and fantasy owners were disappointed that Shaw would get another chance with Hiura succeeding already.
However, that time finally did come as Shaw was optioned to AAA for Hiura on June 27th. Hiura kept hitting in AAA while Shaw was still floundering at the plate. Now, it’s only been 11 games since his return but he’s back at it again with a 122 wRC+ since this second call up. With Shaw’s demotion, there is a bit more confidence that Hiura has a real opportunity to prove himself in the lineup. This is no longer about Shaw’s performance or health, but if their top prospect is ready for the show. Last night’s game was a big step in that proof as he went 3-4, R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI, BB. This was his eighth home run of the season in his 28 games in the bigs adding to the 19 he already has in AAA in 57 games. There are two sides to Hiura that I see. His upside is that he can crush the ball. His hard hit rate is over 50% and he has a 92.5 MPH average exit velocity. His expected slugging is also over .500 (along with his actual SLG). His downside is a classic power-hitting prospect conundrum; the strikeout. At each level of the minors, he has hovered around a 20% strikeout rate. But in AAA it jumped to 26.3% and in the majors it took another step to 31.3%. The culprit is the swing and miss on pitches out of the zone. His O-Swing is 37.4% coupled with an O-Contact 48.4%. This would be among the five or six lowest O-Contact rates among qualified hitters. It’s fine to have a higher O-Swing, but if you don’t make contact it’ll bite you. The raw talent is certainly there and it’s keeping him aloft. But if he wants to take the step to being a star, he’ll need to adjust his discipline on pitches out of the zone.
Now that we are fully back into the swing of things, we have a full lineup of games to dive into. Let’s check them out.
Edwin Encarnación (1B, New York Yankees)—2-4, 2B, 3 RBI. He’s been having an interesting season. Kind of Gallo-esque hitting close to .200 but bashing home run after home run. Since moving to the Yankees, he’s hitting .145 with four homers over 17 games. He’s hitting in the fifth or sixth spot so if his BABIP can come back to normal, despite more weaker contact in the air, he’ll get plenty of RBI opportunities.
Kevin Kiermaier (OF, Tampa Bay Rays)—3-6, 3 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI. Kiermaier has picked up where he left off before the break with his fifth multi-hit game in his last seven starts. He’s also finally having his first full season since 2015 (knock on wood) and has a shot at flirting with a 20/20 season. His hitting has improved across the board with a much higher hard hit rate and hitting lefties better than he has his whole career. He could be a sneaky add in deeper leagues needing a fill-in down the stretch.
Nate Lowe (1B, Tampa Bay Rays)—4-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. Lowe (pronounced like low) is back in the bigs after a short stint in May ready to confuse everyone again with Brandon Lowe (pronounced like now) on the same team. Since his return, Nate Lowe has been displaying his best feature, hitting homers. In his five games since the recall, he has three home runs including last night’s 416 footer. He’s been a bit prone to the strikeout in AAA but he has also displayed good plate discipline drawing plenty of walks. As long as he stays up he should provide plenty of power for your team in the second half.
Rafael Devers (3B, Boston Red Sox)—2-3, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI, BB. Devers has had an outstanding breakout season, showing massive improvements across the board. This past month though, he has been on another planet. Since June 11th, he is slashing .411/.452/.779 with a 216 wRC+. In those 23 games (two of which he only pinch hit) he has delivered eight home runs and 24 runs and RBIs. It’s been an absurd past month for the 22-year-old. He’s been swinging at more pitches and making even more contact over the past month. Fewer strikeouts and more balls in play have led to these abundant opportunities.
Garrett Cooper (1B/OF, Miami Marlins)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. He’s another Marlin’s player that’s popped up having a fine season. In his 52 games played, he’s at a pace for around 30 homers with 90 runs and RBIs while batting over .300. That does not sound right. But it’s true! He’s riding a very high BABIP with a high line drive and ground ball rate with a solid 42.3% hard hit rate. However, his HR/FB is sky-high for playing in Miami (36%). As long as he can keep up his contact and his line drive rate, he’ll only be a flash in the pan in the power department.
Yordan Alvarez (OF, Houston Astros)—3-3, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, BB. After a home run break where he just hit a bunch of doubles, Alvarez is back with two 415+ foot jacks. There has not been any sign of this guy slowing down since he got called up. He’s striking out about the same amount as in the minors. He’s hitting both lefties and righties pretty equally. He’s struggling a bit against sliders and curves, but he’s demolishing everything else.
Yuli Gurriel (1B/2B/3B, Houston Astros)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI. The other Gurriel brother had been seeing what the Blue Jays version was doing and wanted to keep up. In his last 13 games, he has hit 10 home runs, driven in 2o runs, and scored 15. Over this same span, he has struck out only three times making contact with almost everything in and out of the zone. He’s certainly one of the hottest players on the planet right now as almost all his hits are going over the fence. That will die down soon enough, but if he keeps making contact at least he’ll have the chance to get more hits.
Danny Santana (1B/2B/OF, Texas Rangers)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB, SB. Santana was the featured player for Batter’s Box back on June 21st. Since then he’s been decent, still getting hits and hitting the occasional home run. That isn’t much to be concerned about. But he’s not hitting as many line drives anymore and his BABIP has dropped accordingly. However, he still is getting plenty of hits.
Buster Posey (C, San Francisco Giants)—2-5, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI. Could this home run be a part of a turn around for Posey’s season? Five of his past seven starts have been multi-hit games with minimal strikeouts. One of his main struggles this season has been contact on pitches out of the zone. He’s swinging a bit more at these pitches but his O-Contact% has dropped about 14 percentage points. That is substantial. If he can turn that side of his game around we could see better numbers from him. But will that be enough to replace any current productive catcher?
Jorge Soler (OF, Kansas City Royals)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. Soler continues his quiet march to stay near the top of the AL home run leaderboards with his 24th of the year. What’s changed for Soler this season? He’s swinging at more pitches in the zone, making more contact, and a ton of his fly balls are making it over the fence. That contact is also better, which is shown in his improved barrel rate, up four percentage points from last year and near the top of the league this season.
Josh Donaldson (3B, Atlanta Braves)—2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI. Donaldson is redeeming himself from last year and the Braves are proving their one year deal with him was wise. He is back to his home run hitting ways, hitting the 19th and 20th of the season both nearly 400 feet. He’s turned it on over the past month in particular. From June 11th onward, he has 12 homers and 24 RBIs slashing .289/.375/.722. This is also with a decently low BABIP of .250 while hitting a good amount of line drives and ground balls. He’s been gradually improving over the course of this season and looks to be back to a prime version of Donaldson.
Mike Trout (OF, Los Angeles Angels)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 2B, 6 RBI, BB. On a night where every Angel wore Tyler Skaggs’ uniform, the Angels had a nearly perfect night. Their two pitchers threw a combined no-hitter and they scored 13 runs on 13 hits. Trout led the charge with three extra-base hits. I know it’s hard to really talk about Trout here as I don’t have to convince anyone of anything. He’s the best player and he had an incredible night. But just for comparison’s sake, he may be having his best offensive season of his career.
(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)