Keston Hiura Won’t Make Tigers, Has Upward Mobility Clause

MLB Trade Rumors

4:30pm: Petzold tweets that the upward mobility clause dates are March 26, June 1 and August 1.

4:10pm: The Tigers announced today that they have reassigned right-hander Trey Wingenter, left-hander Andrew Vasquez, catcher Anthony Bemboom, infielder Keston Hiura and outfielders Bligh Madris and Ryan Vilade to minor league camp, indicating that no one in that group will make the club’s Opening Day roster.

Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press takes a look at the moves and notes that the organization plans to have Hiura serve as the primary first baseman for Triple-A Toledo. However, the wrinkle in that plan is that his minor league deal has an upward mobility clause, also known as an assignment clause. There are multiple dates where the Tigers must ask the other 29 clubs if any is willing to give Hiura a roster spot. If any of them say yes, the Tigers either have to call him up themselves or trade him to the team that wants him.

That means that the Tigers can only keep him in Triple-A if the other teams all pass on the chance to take him. Petzold doesn’t provide specifics about the dates when the clause will be triggered, but he does note that one of them is next week.

The 27-year-old has had a feast-or-famine career thus far, as he has shown huge home run power but also a worrying penchant for strikeouts. He has 1,057 plate appearances at the major league level, all with the Brewers from 2019 to 2022. He struck out in 380 of them, a 36% rate which is well above par. The league-wide average was 22.7% in the majors last year, for reference. But Hiura did hit 50 home runs in that time.

Last year, Hiura was stuck in Triple-A. He hit 25 homers in 367 plate appearances at that level while keeping his strikeout rate to a more passable 24.5% clip. But he never got called back up to the big leagues and hit minor league free agency at season’s end, signing a minor league deal with the Tigers.

Here in the spring, he batted .323 for the Tigers with two homers in 34 plate appearances. He only struck out at a 23.5% rate but it’s a small sample size and spring stats are always to be taken with a grain of salt as opposing pitchers may not be major league caliber or may be experimenting as they get ready for the season.

Hiura doesn’t have a strong path to playing time in Detroit. He came up as a second baseman but was a poor defender there and spent more time at first base and left field last year. The Tigers have Spencer Torkelson entrenched at first for the foreseeable future. The designated hitter slot will likely be used to rotate their outfielders through, with Kerry Carpenter perhaps seeing the most time as a DH while Mark Canha, Parker Meadows and Riley Greene are on the grass. The bench will be taken up by backup catcher Carson Kelly and utility infielder/outfielders Andy Ibañez, Zach McKinstry and Matt Vierling.

The Tigers would surely like to keep Hiura around as depth but the other 29 clubs will have multiple opportunities to take a chance on him. The Rays just lost one player from their first base/designated hitter mix as it was reported today that Jonathan Aranda requires surgery for a broken finger. The Yankees may be without DJ LeMahieu to start the season after he fouled a ball of his foot. Hiura wouldn’t be able to step in as the everyday third baseman but could provide another bench bat while Oswaldo Cabrera covers the hot corner. The Angels have Nolan Schanuel as their first baseman despite the fact that he was just drafted last summer, and he’s also currently dealing with some back tightness.

There’s also the possibility for platooning, as Hiura has significant reverse splits in his career. He’s hit just .201/.283/.323 against southpaws for a 64 wRC+ but .253/.332/.508 against righties for a 122 wRC+, despite being a right-handed hitter. For any club that feels they are weak against righties, Hiura will be there for the taking. His deal comes with a $2MM base salary if he’s in the majors.

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