UH has plenty of new faces
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Aside from the 15 new players, the 2006 Hawai'i baseball team will have a different look and feel.
The Rainbows open their fifth season under coach Mike Trapasso Wednesday night to start a four-game series against San Diego State at Les Murakami Stadium. They hope to improve on last year's records of 28-27 overall and 15-14 in the Western Athletic Conference.
"Probably team speed and more left-handed bats and arms are the biggest differences this year," Trapasso said.
Hawai'i has several holes to fill. All-WAC second baseman Isaac Omura, who opted to skip his senior season when he signed with the Oakland Athletics after being drafted in the 17th round, led the team in batting (.369), hits (76), doubles (19), home runs (six), RBIs (47), on-base percentage (.464) and slugging percentage (.568). All-WAC pitcher Stephen Bryant was drafted in the 20th round and signed by the Athletics after a strong senior season that saw him go 8-3 with a 3.17 earned run average.
Third baseman Schafer Magana, who batted .276 with a .370 on-base percentage in part because of his team-leading 10 hit batsmen, also was a senior last season, as was designated hitter Nate Thurber (.286). Outfielder Erik Ammon transferred to Oregon State to be closer to home.
Here's how the Rainbows look by positions.
Junior right-hander Steven Wright (5-3, 3.26) was used primarily out of the bullpen and led the team with four saves. He followed that with a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, where he won a relief pitcher award after going 3-0 with a 0.63 ERA and 12 saves. He will move into the starting rotation and will pitch opening night against the Aztecs. He did not throw during the fall because of a groin injury, Trapasso said.
"He deserves the opportunity to start," Trapasso said. "Obviously, what we'll look for is the ability to maintain his stuff through six, seven innings. We'll see how he's doing and how the bullpen's doing."
Junior college transfer Ian Harrington and the return of Mark Rodrigues (redshirt after Tommy John surgery to repair an elbow ligament) give the Rainbows a left-handed presence in the starting rotation. Left-handers accounted for only 2 percent of the 993 innings over the last two seasons. Both southpaws have high upsides, as both have been drafted (Harrington, 37th round by Baltimore in 2004; and Rodrigues, 29th by Montreal in 2001 and 37th by Oakland in 2002).
"It's really important particularly since you'll have a couple of teams you'll face each year — we have a couple of teams (like that) in our league — that are dominant left-handed offensively, so it allows us to match up better," Trapasso said.
Wright, Harrington and Rodrigues are interchangeable in the rotation, Trapasso said.
Right-handers Justin Costi (2-5, 3.81) and Rich Olsen (1-0, 2.51), both returnees, and newcomer Tyler Davis are candidates for the fourth starting spot of the four-game series with SDSU, along with left-hander Myles Ioane.
Davis is durable enough for multiple relief appearances in a series.
"He can start, he can set-up and he can close," Trapasso said.
Ioane had only 6 1/3 innings before red-shirting with an arm injury.
Olsen is coming off knee surgery and Costi was UH's third starter last season. Trapasso has high expectations for both.
Freshmen RHs Matt Daly and Jayson Kramer have high upsides.
"The thing we have to do with them is get them innings," Trapasso said. "They're going to be good for us down the road."
Right-handers Dean Turner (0-1, 16.00), Daniel Caldwell and Keahi Rawlins, who also is back from Tommy John surgery, will work out of the bullpen, along with LH Jeffrey Soskin.
Right-hander Darrell Fisherb-augh (4-1, 1.45) is the leading candidate to close, along with Davis and Wright, if he doesn't start, Trapasso said.
"He's similar to John Wetteland in that more often than not, he'll get the job done," Trapasso said of Fisherbaugh. "He may not make it easy on himself or on the coaches, but in the end he always gets the job done."
Redshirt freshman RH Harrison Kuroda is out for the season after shoulder surgery.
Senior Esteban Lopez (.250, 24 RBIs) will start, but look for senior Matt Inouye (.255, 24 RBIs) to see more duty behind the plate than last season, when he was primarily used in the outfield.
"If you want to take the top five catch-and-throw catchers on the West Coast, we probably have two of them in Lopez and Matt," Trapasso said.
They will be backed by freshmen Landon Hernandez and Kevin Fujii, who might be red-shirted, Trapasso said.
Trapasso likes the depth and flexibility.
At first base, he has left-handed hitting Kris Sanchez, who red-shirted at Arizona before transferring to Central Arizona JC, and the right-handed hitting Luis Avila (.227, 14 RBIs). But the best glove belongs to Eli Rimes.
"He's from the same junior college (San Joaquin Delta) as (Andrew) Sansaver," Trapasso said. "While he's not Sans, defensively he's pretty darn close."
Second base is open to either last year's shortstop Joe Spiers (.307, 31 SBs, 45 runs) or Jonathan Hee (.190).
If Spiers is at second, then the shortstop would be newcomer Eli Christensen.
"He's an outstanding defensive shortstop and we still have Joe (Spiers)," Trapasso said.
Freshman Nathan Young is a good fielding shortstop, Trapasso said.
Third base will either be Hee or newcomer Justin Frash, a left-handed hitter. Frash is nursing a tender shoulder and could be the DH. Adam Roberts (.226, 19 RBIs) also plays third.
Inouye will start in right with either Derek DuPree (.275) or Robbie Wilder (.167) in center and newcomer Jorge Franco in left. Franco, who also plays second base, has played well.
"He's been about our most consistent hitter," Trapasso said of Franco. "He gets on base and he's one of our fastest players."
Wilder has been healthy, showing his speed and bunting skills.
"He's been playing like a man on a mission with a sense of urgency," Trapasso said. "He's making himself a factor."
Freshman Matt Roquemore could play some in the corner outfield spots. Redshirt freshman Steve Bralver and Ryan Asato (.130) are backups.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.