University of California-Irvine’s Keston Hiura is one of the top position players in this year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft class, ranking 37th on MLB.com’s top 50 draft prospects list. But as his junior season quickly approaches, a lingering elbow injury could hurt his draft stock.
As a sophomore at UCI last year, Hiura hurt his elbow in mid-April on a throw from the outfield to second base. His injury ended up being a UCL sprain, which limited Hiura to DH duty the rest of the season and during the summer with Team USA.
Hiura didn’t start throwing again until last October. But in mid-November, he tweaked his elbow again.
“Ever since then (November) I’ve been keeping my eye on it and monitoring what I do,” Hiura said. “I definitely want to be 100 percent when I’m in the field and make sure I’m confident in my throws. Still being a little cautious with it.”
With UCI’s season starting on Feb. 17, Hiura might miss the start of the season. In mid-January, he underwent a platelet-rich plasma treatment to try to avoid a longer recovery of his injured elbow.
Due to the injury, Hiura – who hit .358 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs last season – was shut down from all baseball actives. If Hiura is capable of swinging a bat by UCI’s opening series against Minnesota, he’d likely DH, just like he did for the majority of last season.
Hiura is one of the top college bats in the draft, making consistent, hard contact regularly, but scouts will be concerned about his elbow injury and his future defensive position until draft day arrives.
Even with his name swirling in draft chatter, Hiura isn’t worried about the attention.
“I wasn’t a heavy recruited guy out of high school,” Hiura said. “A lot of teams weren’t necessarily interested, but I didn’t let it get to my head. I played my game. Whatever happens, happens. I have that same mentality about the draft. It’s on my mind but, what’s on my mind is playing my own game and being successful.”
In his first two seasons at UCI, Hiura has played third base and centerfield. But, scouts envision Hiura as a second baseman in the pros.
Hiura grew up playing in the infield, but last year he was approached about playing in the outfield, which he was eager to try.
“I’m definitely glad I got to learn the outfield positions,” Hiura said. “I feel like it will help me in the future. I didn’t view it as a down about not playing in the infield, but more as a plus to become more of a utility player.”
If he can prove this season that he can play in the infield, his value will rise. While Hiura’s position for this season is still up in the air, especially with the injury, he isn’t worried about what position he will play.
Instead, he’s willing to do whatever he can to help UCI compete this season.
“The past few years we’ve been successful, but we’ve failed to make postseason appearances both times,” Hiura said. “Our main goal is to obviously get back into the playoffs and win the Big West conference. We’ve done well at points in (previous) seasons, but we want to finish strong in conference play. Get the playoff spot and give us a shot at making it to Omaha.”
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