Pittsburgh Pirates: Two Potential Early Season Trade Candidates to Avoid
By Noah Wright
Although the Milwaukee Brewers did designated Keston Hiura for assignment, and he passed through waivers, the Pirates shouldn't get any bright ideas about acquiring another former first-rounder who's looked like a bust so far. Hiura's 2019 also shouldn't fool them either. The prospect capital needed to acquire Hiura, who plays one of the deepest positions in baseball (and not even that well), is not worth it whatsoever.
Hiura's '19 rookie season was fool's gold. In 348 plate appearances, Hiura batted .303/.368/.570. He hit 19 home runs in that span, with a wOBA of .388 and 139 wRC+. Hiura was one of baseball's most productive rookies in 2019. His wRC+ was the 4th best among rookies in '19, only surpassed by Yordan Alvarez, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Pete Alonso. But a peak under the hood showed some worrying signs.
Hiura struck out over 30% of the time (30.7%). While many batters strike out at a high rate anymore, most offset it with a strong walk rate. However, Hiura's 7.2% BB% clocked in at below average. He also had an insanely high .402 batting average on balls in play, the fifth highest from a big-league rookie since 1947 (min. 300 PAs). In the following two years, Hiura suffered from poor play and injury.
Between ‘20-’21, Hiura registered just a .192/.279/.362 with a .280 wOBA, and 72 wRC+. Hiura's strikeouts became increasingly worse, going from 34.6% in '20 to 39.1% in '21. He also walked less frequently in both '20 and '21 compared to '19. The only silver lining was the 17 home runs he hit in just 443 plate appearances.
Things came to a head in 2022 when he batted .226/.316/.449 with a .334 wOBA and 115 wRC+. Hiura hit for decent power with a .222 ISO and upped his walk rate to 8.6%. Those aren't terrible numbers on the surface, but it's fool's gold like his 2019 rookie season. He still had an extremely high BABIP of .355. He also struck out at a 41.7% rate. Even in an era when strikeouts are at an all-time high and are still going up, Hiura's K% is still the second-highest single-season K% ever and the highest since 1900 (min. 250 PAs).
It also doesn't help that Hiura has been a poor defensive infielder throughout all of this. Hiura originally came up as a second baseman but has -16 defensive runs saved and -12 outs above average throughout his major league career at the keystone. The Brewers moved him to first base, where he grades out as a league-average defender (zero DRS and OAA).
It's impossible to buy into Hiura's 2019 or 2022 seasons. Sure, on paper, there are far worse hitters out there, but he's a hitter who solely relies on BABIP luck to work around him striking out around 40% of the time. That's a recipe for disaster and probably doesn't hold up over 500 plate appearances.
If the Pirates need first base depth so badly that they would think about Hiura, they would have plenty of other solutions. Outside of promoting top prospect Malcom Nunez, they could sign Miguel Sano, who is a very comparable batter to Hiura. The Pirates have another extremely comparable batter to Hiura in the form of Mason Martin (who might still have the best raw power among the Bucs' minor leaguers). If they really want to reach far down in the depth chart, I'd rather see Aaron Shackelford or Andres Alvarez at first base before giving up minor league capita for Hiura.