Burden of proof rests with pitchers
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
A veteran infield, a deep outfield and pitchers with a lot to prove make up the 2010 University of Hawai'i baseball team.
The Rainbows, coming off a 32-26 season that ended after three games in the Western Athletic Conference tournament, open the season Friday with a four-game series against nationally ranked Oregon State at Les Murakami Stadium.
Hawai'i lost four major contributors to graduation and one to the Major League Baseball draft. But life goes on.
Here's a position-by-position outlook:
Landon Hernandez was a mainstay behind the plate the past three seasons, when he played in 176 games, starting in 162. But he's done with eligibility.
Although backup Kevin Fujii returns, the position was bolstered with junior college transfer David Freitas, regarded as one of the top newcomers in the WAC, according to Baseball America.
"We'll have to wait and see on the offensive end, how he adjusts to Division I pitching," Trapasso said. "We think he'll be solid and capable of hitting in the middle of the order."
Fujii, a reserve for most of his career, filled in for the injured Hernandez (wrist) toward the end of last season.
"Fujii is your ultimate team guy," Trapasso said. "Being a senior, he's taking on a leadership role. When he had his opportunity last year, he did well in spelling Landon."
Redshirt freshman Nick Croce adds depth.
Senior Kevin Macdonald led the team with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs last season, but Trapasso feels he can still be a run-producer by cutting down on his strikeouts (team-leading 52).
"In Kevin's case, you cut a little of the strikeouts here, you're looking at his average going up to where he'd be a .290 hitter and (that) could equate to even more RBIs," Trapasso said.
Macdonald's defense is phenomenal, preventing throwing errors by the other infielders.
Sophomore Easton Torigoe and junior Jeffrey Van Doornum will back up Macdonald. Van Doornum, an outfielder, is coming off labrum surgery on each shoulder (a week apart) and is still building throwing strength. Trapasso said his swing is getting close to what it was his freshman year, when he hit 21 doubles. He would also be a candidate to DH because of the shoulder issues.
"(Van Doornum) could be the guy if something ever happened to Kevin or if Kevin needed a break," Trapasso said.
Versatile sophomore Kolten Wong moves from center field to a position that he is projected to play professionally (he was drafted out of Kamehameha-Hawai'i in 2008 by the Minneota Twins). He has played second base before, including with USA Baseball over the summer.
"He's still new to the position, still learning it," Trapasso said. "But he has the tools, the aptitude to make the adjustment. Forty games into the season, he'll be an above average second baseman. We know what he can bring to the table offensively."
Wong, the WAC Freshman of the Year, led the team with a .597 slugging percentage, pounding 11 homers with 52 RBIs. He tied a UH record with three homers in a game.
Although Wong didn't make the all-WAC preseason team at second base, Baseball America's WAC preview did pick him. Fresno State's Danny Muno, picked by WAC coaches not only as the second baseman, but the hitter of the year, was listed as the top shortstop in the WAC by Baseball America.
Redshirt freshman Russell Doi and true freshman Kalani Brackenridge will back up Wong. Brackenridge also will play left field.
Junior Greg Garcia solidifies the infield with his experience as a third-year starter. After hitting .312 as a freshman, he fell to .265 last year. Trapasso wants Garcia to take advantage of his speed by hitting more grounders.
"He had more fly-ball outs than ground-ball outs (last year)," Trapasso said. "He's really been swinging well offensively in our scrimmages. I look for him to have a good year."
Sophomore Jesse Moore, who will primarily pitch, and freshman Pi'ikea Kitamura, who will see more time at third base, will back up Garcia. Kitamura was an All-State shortstop for Kamehameha last year.
Kitamura and senior Josh Chevalier each will see time at third and have the biggest cleats to fill for Vinnie Catricala, who parlayed a .349 batting average with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in his junior season into a 10th-round selection by the Seattle Mariners.
Kitamura's bat is expected to develop over the years, but his glove has been "above average," Trapasso said.
"He has a tremendous amount of poise for a freshman," Trapasso said. "You look at his physical tools, he's gotten stronger. ... He's capable of putting up great numbers before he leaves here."
Chevalier, who hit .357 in 20 plate appearances last season, has improved bat speed, Trapasso said.
Junior Sean Montplaisir turned up his offense toward the end of last season, hitting 13 of his 16 doubles and all five of his home runs during the WAC season.
Brackenridge, a 50th-round pick by Tampa Bay out of Kapolei last year, also will see time in left.
"You'll see him flash power as he gets older and stronger," Trapasso said of Brackenridge, whose father played in the Minnesota Twins organization.
Freshman Breland Almadova, The Advertiser Player of the Year out of 'Iolani last season, is expected to contribute and bat leadoff.
"He's a great runner, really tracks the ball," Trapasso said. "He'll develop into a really good offensive player."
Senior Matt Roquemore and redshirt freshman Chase Koissian can play all three outfield positions.
"Roquemore brings maturity and continues to get better every year," Trapasso said. "He plays a very good center field."
Junior college transfer Collin Bennett, also listed as a top newcomer to the WAC by Baseball America, has been primarily a center fielder, but will play right. Others who could see action are senior C.J. Johnson and Van Doornum, when his throwing shoulder gets stronger.
To date, only senior right-hander Nate Klein is a confirmed starting pitcher. He will start opening night, Trapasso said.
Klein (3-4, 5.10 earned run average last season) tended to have high pitch counts last season.
"We need him to be more efficient, get some early-count outs and be able to go seven and eight innings, instead of five and six," Trapasso said.
The only other pitcher with a set role is sophomore right-hander Lenny Linsky, who will be the closer.
After striking out 15 and walking 14 in 17 innings last season, UH adjusted his arm angle to three-quarters and came up with favorable results.
"We thought it would just get (his pitches) down in the zone better, but he's got sink and velocity," said Trapasso, adding Linsky has been in the 88- to 90-mph range and touched 94 in the fall.
Junior left-hander Sam Spangler returned instead of signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted him in the 20th round as a draft-eligible sophomore (he red-shirted his freshman year). Spangler is a projected starter after pitching solely from the bullpen last year, when he notched four saves. But an inflamed left shoulder has set him behind.
"He'll start a little behind everyone else in pitch count," Trapasso said. "He'll be at 60, 70 pitches when the season starts."
That is compared to 90 for the other projected starters at this juncture.
Sophomore right-hander Connor Little is making a case to start.
"His breaking ball is the biggest improvement from last year," Trapasso said. "He's got a good hard slider that's become an out pitch for him."
Sophomore right-hander Matt Sisto, who made 13 starts last year, also is vying to start.
"He pitches aggressive," Trapasso said. "Has a very good changeup and his slider has developed into a solid pitch for him. I wouldn't call it an out pitch, but it's pretty close."
Junior right-handers Josh Slaats and Alex Capaul have shown flashes of their potential in scrimmages that the coaches saw when they were recruited out of high school. But both need to prove themselves "under scoreboard pressure," Trapasso said.
Sixth-year senior right-hander Harry Kuroda will pitch from the bullpen.
"He's a strike thrower," Trapasso said. "He's very good one time through the lineup, particularly at home because it's a big ballpark."
Right-hander Zach Gallagher, a junior college transfer, hurt his knee in a mo-ped accident and missed fall workouts, Trapasso said. But he pitched two scoreless innings in the Alumni game.
"He's going to help us," Trapasso said. "He's a strike-thrower."
Another JC transfer, left-hander Blair Walters, could give left-handed hitters problems because he "has crossfire action," Trapasso said.
Freshman right-hander Trent Allianic, out of Kaua'i High, can run his fastball up to 88 to 90 mph, Trapasso said.
"He's not going to be scared," Trapasso said. "He'll pitch his best. He's capable of being a weekend starter before he leaves here."
Sophomore right-hander Jesse Moore can be used out of the bullpen in long or short stints and can play shortstop.
"He throws 86 to 90," Trapasso said. "There's no fear with him."
Freshman left-hander Derek Brown is considered a "situational lefty," Trapasso said. He also can hit and might get to bat.
Right-hander Randy Yard, a JC transfer, is coming off labrum surgery and might redshirt. But Trapasso said he has been ahead of his rehab.
"He is a legit front-line weekend guy when he's healthy, with a low-to-mid-90's arm and good power slider," Trapasso said.
Had Yard been healthy from the outset, Trapasso said he would be drafted and signed after this season.