Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura couldn’t ever remember playing first base during a game in high school, college or the professional ranks before this year.
Yet that’s where he’ll be most often this season.
Hiura had been Milwaukee’s starting second baseman for the last two years but is moving to first as the Brewers make room for newly acquired Kolten Wong at second.
“A lot of people have been giving me tips and I’ve just constantly been asking questions because I’m just trying to figure out where to be in every single position, whether it’s fielding a ground ball or taking a cut-off,” Hiura said from the Brewers’ spring training site at Phoenix. “It’s just to keep your mind working for every single situation that could come up.”
The first step was finding a mitt. Hiura didn’t want to start the season with a brand-new first baseman’s mitt that hadn’t been broken in. For now, he’s borrowing the first baseman’s mitt of teammate Travis Shaw, who has played both third and first.
“When you get a new glove, it takes a while for it to break in, especially with a first-base glove, you’ve got a lot of leather going into that,” Hiura said. “Obviously with me never breaking in a first baseman’s glove in my life, that definitely is going to take some time, kind of understanding how I want it to be broken in, how I want to form it in my hand, how I want it to close.”
Plenty of players have shifted from second base to first base.
Hall of Famer Rod Carew made that transition midway through his career. Pete Rose started at second base but moved to third and the outfield before landing at first. Colorado’s Ryan McMahon and D.J. LeMahieu of the New York Yankees are active second basemen who also have played first at times.
Hiura’s situation is unusual because he’s making this switch so early in his career. He’s only 24 years old.
The Brewers are giving him plenty of opportunities to adjust to the demands required of his new position. Monday marks the ninth time in 15 exhibitions that Hiura has been the Brewers’ starting first baseman.
Hiura noted that “it’s kind of been all hands on deck” as plenty of Brewers officials instruct him about what to expect. That list includes manager Craig Counsell, bench coach Pat Murphy, third-base coach Jason Lane and Matt Erickson, the manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers who serve as Milwaukee’s Single-A Midwest League affiliate.
“We are throwing something very new at Keston,” Counsell said. “He is diligently working at it and doing really good at it from our perspective.”
Generously listed as 6 feet, Hiura isn’t as tall as the typical first baseman. But the Brewers believe his background at second base will give him exceptional range.
The Brewers are counting on this move to make them better even with Hiura adjusting to a new position.
Wong, a Gold Glove winner each of the last two seasons with St. Louis, represents a defensive upgrade over Hiura at second base. Moving Hiura to first base keeps his bat in the lineup.
Although Hiura batted just .212 with an NL-high 85 strikeouts last season, he hit .303 with a .938 OPS as a rookie in 2019. He has 32 homers in 531 career at-bats.
Hitting coach Andy Haines expects Hiura to bounce back.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he’s really an elite hitter,” Haines said. “So, with that being said, sometimes it can be really simple. When Keston’s right, the way they’re attacking him is not of the utmost importance more than him being right and dialed in. He’s learned more than any other player can learn in the last year and a half.”
Notes: CF Lorenzo Cain is expected to play Saturday as he works his way back from a quadriceps injury. Counsell said Cain is still on track to be ready for the start of the season. … Counsell said RHP Adrian Houser will remain on his normal schedule. Houser left Sunday’s game early with what the team described as right thumb discomfort. … OF Derek Fisher injured his left hamstring Sunday and probably won’t play this week.