Baseball 'Bows filling holes in lineup
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
The University of Hawai'i's baseball season starts four weeks from tomorrow with several holes to fill.
The Rainbows open the 2010 season against No. 10 Oregon State Feb. 19 at Les Murakami Stadium. But graduation and the draft left UH with openings at third base, center field and catcher. Hawai'i's ninth-year coach Mike Trapasso said competition for those positions have been strong.
With freshman All-American Kolten Wong moving from center to second base, that fills the void left by Ryan Morford (.305, no errors in 229 total chances mostly at second base), who completed eligibility after last season. Wong, the Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, was in the top three of the team's major offensive categories.
With Vinnie Catricala signing with the Seattle Mariners in the 10th round after a strong junior season (.349, 13 HRs, 44 RBIs), third base became vacant. Competing for the job are freshman Pi'ikea Kitamura, the All-State shortstop out of Kamehameha, and returnee Joshua Chevalier (.357 in 20 plate appearances). Both have impressed Trapasso.
"I think Pi'ikea's going to be a star," Trapasso said. "He's outstanding defensively right now. He's got great makeup and toughness. The bat will come around. We'll continue to see improvement throughout the year with the bat."
Trapasso said Chevalier returned to school stronger.
"He's got more bat speed than he had last year, had a good fall, offensively," Trapasso said.
Hawai'i also must replace catcher Landon Hernandez, who also is done with eligibility after four strong seasons. Kevin Fujii, who spelled Hernandez (wrist injury) toward the end of the season, is competing with JC transfer David Freitas, who easily blends in with the football team at 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds.
"That's the one area we need to stay healthy," Trapasso said.
Fujii (.220 in 21 games) hit well filling in for Hernandez in the WAC tournament; he was the only Rainbow on the all-tournament team.
Freitas led Cosumnes River JC in hitting (.333), home runs (nine), RBIs (43) and walks (41) last season.
With Wong's move to second, center field is open. Freshman Breland Almadova and JC transfer Collin Bennett are candidates.
Almadova was The Advertiser's 2009 Player of the Year out of 'Iolani, where he was a three-sport star.
Bennett comes to UH after playing one season at Tacoma JC, giving him three years of eligibility with the Rainbows. He hit .391 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He was an ABCA Pacific Division (JC) Gold Glove recipient last season, according to a Rawlings press release. (UH shortstop Jon Hee was a Division I Gold Glove recipient, as was outfielder C.J. Johnson for JCs — both in 2008.)
"Breland Almadova had a good fall and to me looks like a guy who is going to play center field for us for a long time," Trapasso said. "Collin Bennett can play center field, but I also can see him in right."
Trapasso added that returnee Matt Roquemore can play all three outfield positions.
The outfield appears to be deep with Sean Monplaisir (.291), Johnson (.214, six homers), Chase Koissian and freshmen Kalani Brackenridge.
Jeffrey Van Doornum is recovering well from labrum surgeries on both shoulders. While his throwing might still be suspect from the outfield, his ability to swing the bat is back.
"He's showing the bat speed he had his freshman year," Trapasso said. "He's pain-free after having surgeries on both shoulders."
On the mound, Nate Klein and Matt Sisto combined for 23 of 58 starts last season. Connor Little, who had five starts last year, developed a slider over the summer, Trapasso said.
Sam Spangler, who opted to return after being picked in the 20th round by Pittsburgh, had some shoulder inflammation, so was shutdown for 12 days. He started thowing again about 10 days ago.
"He'll get off the mound the tail end of next week," Trapasso said. "He's behind the other guys on pitch counts."
Pitcher Harrison Kuroda, who missed the first two seasons of his career because of a shoulder injury, is still awaiting clearance for a sixth season of eligibility.