Valencia High baseball coach Mike Killinger remembers Keston Hiura as an even-tempered player, never too high or too low.
Maybe that’s why Hiura initially remained seated as a roomful of friends and family leapt to their feet at Anteater Ballpark in Irvine on Monday when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred read Hiura’s name as the Milwaukee Brewers’ No. 9 overall selection.
Coming six picks after Stevenson Ranch resident Hunter Greene went to the Cincinnati Reds, Hiura gave the SCV two first-round draft picks in the same year for the first time ever.
MORE MLB DRAFT: Reds take Stevenson Ranch’s Greene No. 2
Hiura, a Valencia grad and junior at UC Irvine, told The Signal Monday that he hadn’t originally expected to go quite that high. He was widely projected as a mid to late first round pick because of an elbow injury that some believe will require Tommy John surgery.
However, teams’ perspective of the second baseman seemed to change in the week leading up to the draft.
“As it got closer to draft day and last week, I got a good amount of interest from some of those teams with top-10 picks,” said Hiura, who could sign for approximately $4.6 million, according to MLB.com. “I knew there was a possibility. I knew there was a pretty good range of going anywhere in the first round.”
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Anywhere turned out to be Milwaukee, a club that overlooked the elbow injury that limited Hiura to designated hitter duties during his junior season at UC Irvine and picked a player some consider the most advanced bat in the draft class.
“He has dealt with some elbow issues that might lead to Tommy John surgery,” wrote MLB.com columnist Jim Callis, “but it wouldn’t require the same kind of rehab that it would if he was a pitcher. But even if that happens, the payoff once he’s fully healthy is huge: He is perhaps the best pure hitter in the entire Draft and he plays in the middle of the diamond.”
Statistically, Hiura was the best hitter in all of NCAA Division 1 baseball this season, hitting a national-best .442 and picking up Baseball America first-team All-American and Golden Spikes Award semifinalist honors along the way.
Named the Big West Conference Player of the Year, Hiura told The Signal earlier this month the relationships he’d built over three years in Irvine would make it difficult to leave his senior season behind.
However, he believed this might be his best opportunity to accomplish his ultimate baseball goal of playing professionally.
Asked Monday whether he hoped to sign with Milwaukee quickly, Hiura said he planned to “let it play out.”
“My goal is to play baseball as soon as possible,” Hiura said. “We’ll see how everything else goes. I’m just focused on enjoying the moment and looking forward.”
Hiura was the Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year in 2014 after batting .500 with 14 home runs and 30 RBIs at Valencia.
“I’m excited for him to get his chance,” Killinger said, “and hopefully we’ll see him playing in the majors someday.”
The MLB Draft continues today with Rounds 3-10 starting at 10 a.m. It will be streamed live on MLB.com.