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Brewers Prospect Primer: Helium for Hiura

Milwaukee's top prospect set to smash in Triple-A San Antonio
Keston Hiura's career Minor League batting line stands at .313/.374/.502 entering the 2019 season. (Jerry Espinoza/
March 26, 2019

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2019 season approaching, takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.Shining star: Keston Hiura, 2BKeston

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2019 season approaching, takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.
Shining star: Keston Hiura, 2B
Keston Hiura has done nothing but hit since he was selected ninth overall by Milwaukee in the 2017 Draft. He reached Double-A Biloxi during his first full season in 2018 and held his own with a .272/.339/.416 slash line, although he struggled from August on with a .225 average.

Those struggles were partially due to bad luck as Hiura's .273 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) after Aug. 1 was far below his career Minor League mark of .375. Milwaukee's top prospect bounced back in the Arizona Fall League en route to Most Valuable Player honors. He led the circuit with 31 hits and 33 RBIs and finished fourth with a .563 slugging percentage and sixth with a .934 OPS.
Hiura's 70-grade hit tool is his best asset, and his raw power has been considered above-average as well. The concerns from 2017 surrounding his elbow and potential Tommy John surgery have quieted, and he's a player the Brewers are excited to see in Milwaukee, potentially as early as 2019.
"He's probably as polished of a college hitter since Ryan Braun in the 2005 Draft. That's the No. 1 tool that jumps out," Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said. "He's been working really hard on other parts of his game. He's gifted on the basepaths with jumps and breaks, but not a burner. Defensively, we're just trying to get him the reps he needs at second. We're very confident in the bat, and he's committed to working on the full game. He's the guy we're most excited about."

Back and healthy: Mauricio Dubon, SS/2B
A 26th-round pick of the Red Sox in 2013, Dubon was traded to the Brewers with Travis Shaw and two others in December 2016 for right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg. After a nondescript system debut in 2017 in which he batted .272/.320/.420 with eight home runs and 38 stolen bases between Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs, Dubon was off to a blistering start to 2018 with a .343/.348/.574 slash line and a 23-game hitting streak through 27 games before he tore his ACL in a rundown and missed the rest of the season.
"Mauricio had an excellent start last year in Triple-A on both sides of the ball," Flanagan said. "He rehabbed [his injury] and is 100 percent now, but he's battled through some things here in spring. He's gonna be starting the year in Triple-A for us with a lot of time at short and other spots in the infield. He's a guy we feel confident can touch our big league club when the need arises. It's just a matter of him getting his knee back under him and his confidence."
Dubon, who Milwaukee general manager David Stearns said was in the mix to be called up before his injury last year, will start the season at Triple-A San Antonio and form a must-watch double-play combo for the Missions with Hiura. If Orlando Arcia doesn't take a step forward in the Majors, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Dubon manning shortstop for the Brewers by midseason.

MLB-ready: Zack Brown, RHP
Brown was a bit of an unheralded prospect entering 2018 as he was ranked 25th in Milwaukee's top 30 entering the season. By the end of the year, he had risen to the No. 8 spot after a dominant campaign in which he went 9-1 with a 2.44 ERA over 22 appearances, 21 of them starts. After the Kentucky product allowed five runs on five hits and two walks in five innings on April 23, Brown went undefeated with a 1.79 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 28 walks over 95 2/3 frames during a 15-start span before a sprained left ankle sidelined him for nearly a month at the end of July.
The underlying statistics support Brown's breakout as his ground-ball rate rose almost 10 percent to a career-high 56 percent while his line-drive rate fell over 5 percent to a career-low 14.2. While his 2.44 ERA may be difficult to repeat without further improvement, the arrow is pointing straight north for Brown, and the Brewers have taken notice.
"We've always liked [Brown], but last year he took a huge step forward with Biloxi," Flanagan said. "He [was] Minor League Pitcher of the Year, the third year [we've had one] at the Double-A level with Corbin Burnes [in 2017] and Brandon Woodruff [in 2016]. The two big pitches for him are his fastball and curveball, and he's always on the attack. It's well documented that he's a competitor. Everybody who's had him likes how he goes about his business, and he has the stuff to match -- a lot of guys will flash the stuff, but he can get it up there pretty consistently. The way he competes kind of follows Burnes and Woodruff."

Full-season debutants: Brice Turang, SS
Milwaukee selected Turang 21st overall in last year's Draft, and he hit the ground running with a .283/.396/.352 slash line and 14 stolen bases in 42 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League and Rookie Advanced Helena. His advanced approach at the plate and 60-grade speed were displayed during in that small sample as Turang walked 31 times, struck out 34 times and stole 14 bases.
The son of former Mariners outfielder Brian Turang, he's considered a solid defender who projects to stick at shortstop long-term. Scouts question his power potential at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, and he hit just one homer in 2018, but the 19-year-old California native certainly has time to develop that aspect of his game.
"I think [full-season ball] is going to be a challenge for him," Flanagan said. "He played well in our instructional program, played a ton of baseball last year and will do the same this year. It will take some time with his body as a 19-year-old ... as he fills out, there's much more in the tank as he gets stronger and grows into his body. I think he's a guy that knows the strike zone -- something with young hitters we have to pound on -- but he walked in the door and had a solid feel and good instruction from Day 1 growing up. He's a little advanced for a high-school guy, but physically he needs the time. We're confident he'll fill out over the next few years."
Loudest tool: Lucas Erceg, 3B
Erceg burst onto the scene with an impressive debut in 2016, jumping from the Pioneer League to Class A Wisconsin and batting .281/.328/.497 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 42 games with the Timber Rattlers. His numbers dipped with Class A Advanced Carolina in 2017 (.256/.307/.417) and Biloxi last season (.248/.306/.382), but one constant has remained -- the 70-grade throwing arm.
"He's a guy that is tooled up pretty good and can do a bit on both sides of the ball," Flanagan said. "In college, he pitched. We're not there with him, but in terms of the arm strength he has, it's impressive. He can make throws from different angles. He's worked very hard this offseason in Phoenix with our rehab and strength staff. Not due to injury, he basically wanted to improve his work habits, tackled things head on and came into camp a lot more mobile than in the past. I'm excited to see him on the field with the 'new body.'"
Milwaukee's 2016 second-round pick whittled away at his strikeout rate in three consecutive seasons and whiffed barely 16 percent of the time with the Shuckers in 2018. With continued strides in that area, Erceg has the potential to reach 20 home runs this season with his above-average power. Not to mention that cannon at the hot corner.

More to keep an eye on: Corey Ray struggled in his first two professional seasons after being selected fifth overall in 2016, but his power showed up in a big way in 2018 with 27 home runs in addition to his plus speed. Ray will start the season at San Antonio, and while the strikeouts might still come in bunches after 176 last season, his power/speed combination ranks among the best in the Minor Leagues. ... Tristen Lutz struggled out of the gates at Wisconsin, but his bat warmed with the weather and he hit .263/.341/.454 with 12 homers, 61 RBIs and nine stolen bases from April 25 on. His tools are pretty average across the board, but Lutz has no weaknesses in his game. He should get off to a better start if he begins 2018 in Biloxi, approximately 1,100 miles south of Fox Cities Stadium, home of the Timber Rattlers. ... Aaron Ashby reached the Midwest League as a 20-year-old last season and went 1-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 47-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 37 1/3 innings in seven starts with Wisconsin. His fastball touches 96 mph and he has a 65-grade curveball, and those two pitches fuel his high strikeout rate. As a hard-throwing left-hander with natural deception in his unorthodox delivery, Ashby has the potential to rise up the rankings in his first full season in hopes of following in the footsteps of uncle Andy Ashby, who pitched 14 seasons in the Majors.
Most home runs: Ray
Most stolen bases: Ray
Most strikeouts: Ashby
Current prospect to get most Major League playing time: Dubon
Non-Top 100 prospect to end 2019 in the Top 100: Ray

Chris Tripodi is a producer for Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.