'05 Kauai graduate armed and ready
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Like his big league older brother, Kirby Yates has more than survived Tommy John surgery. He has thrived.
The 2005 graduate of Kaua'i High will be anxiously awaiting the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which runs Thursday and Friday.
Yates, a right-handed pitcher, returned to action for Yavapai Community College this past season after having elbow surgery in May 2006, his freshman season at the Arizona JC. After sitting out 2007, he went 7-4 with a 3.35 earned run average, striking out 69, while walking 29 in 75 1/3 innings this past season.
"It was rough, a lot of ups and downs," Yates said of the usual year-long recovery and rehabilitation process of Tommy John surgery. "It was tough at first, not having your strength or be able to throw the way you normally did. I felt I had to re-teach myself how to throw a baseball again."
Fortunately, he was just a phone call away from someone who was in the same boat not so long ago. Tyler Yates, a Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher, missed parts of the 2002 and 2003 seasons recovering from the same surgery.
"I called him a lot, talked to him about it," the younger Yates said. "He kept me on the straight line throughout the whole thing, so that was good."
Before the injury, Kirby Yates said his fastball was consistently in the 89 to 92 mph range. After the surgery, his fastball has been consistently in the 90 to 93 mph range. He said he hit 94 mph a couple of times.
Yates, who was a 26th-round pick out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in 2005, said his Yavapai coach told him he would be drafted somewhere between the eighth and 12th rounds. But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Yates isn't quite as optimistic.
"I'd like to think I'm going to get drafted, but I don't think I'm going to go that high," he said.
Still, he is optimistic that something will get done.
"I don't want to say (I'll sign) no matter what, but I think I'll have a good opportunity to sign," he said.
But he apparently has an option. He said he will be filling out paperwork to sign with the University of Hawai'i.
Yates is among five college players with ties to Hawai'i with college eligibility left being considered for the draft. He is the only JC player, but four-year college juniors who could be tabbed are: Hawai'i pitcher Matt Daly and catcher Landon Hernandez; Southern Utah outfielder Nick Freitas (Kamehameha '05) and second baseman Keli'i Zablan (Saint Louis '05), and Cal Poly pitcher Derrick Saito (Baldwin '05).
Freitas transferred from Miami to join coach David "Boy" Eldredge at Southern Utah. Given playing time he didn't get with the Hurricanes, Freitas hit .315 with 16 homers, 39 RBI and 34 steals for the Thunderbirds.
Saito, a 5-foot-9 left-hander, averaged 92 to 93 mph, but had control issues, according to Baseball America Online's state-by-state draft report.
College seniors expected to get picked include UH center fielder Brandon Haislet and shortstop Jon Hee, and San Diego State shortstop Troy Hanzawa (Mid-Pacific '03), a former Rainbow who transferred to Yavapai before becoming an Aztec. Like Freitas, Hanzawa flourished with playing time. He capped his collegiate career with all-Mountain West first-team honors, batting .370 with 15 doubles, seven triples, 50 RBI and 11 steals.
Unlike previous years, fifth-year seniors, such as Hee and Hanzawa, were no longer allowed to sign as free agents before the draft. Last year, UH pitcher Mark Rodrigues and first baseman Kris Sanchez signed before the draft.
As for high school players, recent Mililani High graduate Dustin Antolin, a right-handed pitcher and center fielder, appears to be the top prospect locally. While most teams that have shown interest in him are looking at him as a pitcher, the Boston Red Sox project him as an outfielder, Antolin's father, Lawrence Antolin said. The younger Antolin has signed with Central Arizona JC.
Also among the high school prospects are the trio of 2007 Advertiser All-State catchers: Kamehameha-Hawai'i's Kolten Wong, Mid-Pacific's Aaron Fujiki and Punahou's Zach Kometani. All have Division I college picks: Wong to UH, Fujiki to San Diego State and Kometani to San Diego.
Also of interest are UH's incoming recruits. Those showing up on Baseball America Online's draft preview list are pitchers Lenny Linsky and Matt Sisto, and outfielder Chase Koissian. All are from Southern California high schools. Although catcher Nick Croce doesn't show up on the list, at least one MLB team has registered him for the draft, UH coach Mike Trapasso said.
It is not unusual for four-year college signees to go undrafted.
Also, UH-Hilo second baseman Michael Higa (Pearl City '04) was named to the NCAA Division I All-Independent second team, UHH announced yesterday. He is the only Vulcan being considered for the draft.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at email@example.com.