Tigers Sign Keston Hiura To Minor League Deal

MLB Trade Rumors

The Tigers have signed free agent Keston Hiura, reports Jon Heyman of The New York Post. It’s a minor league deal, per Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press. Petzold adds that the CAA Sports client will earn $2MM plus incentives if in the majors.

Hiura, 27, has put up huge power numbers but also worrying strikeout totals. The Brewers selected him ninth overall in 2017 and he debuted in the big leagues with that club in 2019. He hit 19 home runs in just 84 games in what was later revealed to be the “juiced balls” season. His 30.7% strikeout rate was on the high side but he was a 22-year-old rookie and it was hoped he could bring that down as he matured and got more exposure to big league pitching.

But instead, the opposite happened. The strikeouts kept mounting and he was frequently optioned to the minors. He got into 200 big league games from 2020 to 2022, hitting 31 homers but also getting punched out in 38.5% of his trips to the plate. He came up as a second baseman but his glovework was considered poor. He gradually spent more time at first base and left field, less-demanding positions from a defensive point of view but ones where the offensive expectations are higher.

Going into 2023, he had exhausted his option years while the Brewers had Rowdy Tellez and Luke Voit blocking his path to playing time at first base and an abundance of corner outfielders as well. They put him on waivers at the end of March and he passed through unclaimed. He and the club had already agreed to a $2.2MM salary and no other club was willing to take that on. He technically had the right to reject an outright assignment since he had over three years of service time, but he lacked the five years of service time necessary to both reject the assignment and keep the money.

Instead, he reported to Triple-A Nashville in order to keep that salary in place. He made a few trips to the minor league injured list and played 85 Triple-A games last year. He hit 23 home runs in that time while keeping his strikeout rate to a 24.5% rate. That’s obviously far better than his time in the major leagues, but a more modest improvement compared to his previous Triple-A stints. From 2019 to 2022, he struck out in 29.1% of his 508 Triple-A appearances.

Hiura never got the call to the big leagues and qualified for free agency at season’s end. For the Tigers, there’s little harm in bringing him aboard via this minor league deal to see how he looks. The power potential is unquestionable and he could be a nice under-the-radar pickup if he’s able to get the strikeouts under control.

He actually has tremendously reversed splits for his career, so would be best served being in the lineup against righties, despite being a right-handed hitter. He’s hit .201/.283/.323 against southpaws in his career but .253/.332/.508 the rest of the time, leading to a split of 64 versus 122 in terms of wRC+.

The Tigers have Spencer Torkelson at first base while their corner outfield and designated hitter time should be split between Riley Greene, Mark Canha and Kerry Carpenter. Torkelson has hit lefties better in his career thus far: .225/.299/.458 batting line and 106 wRC+ compared to a .220/.304/.379 showing and 91 wRC+ against righties. That arguably creates a path for Hiura to earn some at-bats but the Tigers won’t be eager to platoon Torkelson since he’s a former first overall pick and still developing, with the potential to be a key part of their future. Canha and Greene both have fairly even splits while Carpenter is best against righties.

Hiura is somewhat blocked at the moment but injuries are inevitable in a long baseball season. If he’s mashing in Triple-A again and the Tigers find themselves with a hole in their lineup, he might get a shot at filling it. If he’s selected to the roster, he is out of options but he could be controlled beyond this season if things go especially well. He has three years and nine days of service time, meaning that he would be three years from free agency even if he made the Opening Day roster. If he were added a few weeks into the season, he wouldn’t be able to reach the four-year mark this year, thus pushing his free agency back another year.

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