Saturday, April 10, 1999
Agbayani tops HawaiisBy Al Chase
Fifteen baseball players with Hawaii ties are playing in pro baseball's minor leagues. Thirteen of them got their assignments this week. Two others are rounding into shape in extended spring training.
Former Hawaii Rainbow pitchers Matt Apana and Mike Campbell are waiting for another chance to keep their careers alive. Both are working out and Apana threw for scouts in town for the Rainbow Easter Tournament.
"I haven't given up. The biggest difficulty is my agent retired last year and it's difficult to do it on your own. I'm still working out and looking for that window of opportunity," Campbell said.
Todd Takayoshi, a catcher for UH, retired after the 1998 season.
Infielder Ken Morimoto, Waimea High School and Hawaii-Hilo, was selected by Anaheim in the Rule 5 Draft (Double A) from the Los Angeles Dodgers last December, but declined the Angels' contract offer and has retired.
Orin Kawahara, a right-hander from Baldwin High School, was released by the Seattle Mariners March 26 after three seasons in which he compiled a 5-9 record with a 4.68 ERA.
Yesterday, he agreed to terms with the Zion Pioneerzz of the independent Western League.
Alika Smith, the former Hawaii Rainbow basketball star, who has not pitched competitively since his days at Kalaheo High School, is waiting for a call from the Anaheim Angels, telling him to report to extended spring training in Mesa, Ariz.
Maui's Barry Takahashi, a pitcher/outfielder who played two seasons with Abilene in the independent Texas-Louisiana League, hasn't decided whether to continue playing.
Here is a look at the season-opening assignments for Hawaii's 15 minor league players.
Benny Agbayani: "He was one of our top players day in day out. We compile stats each day and Benny has been in the top three just about every day," said New York Mets representative Matt Grupp. Agbayani, a career outfielder, will start the season at first base with the Norfolk Tides of the Triple-A International League. "He's one of six guys the organization wants to play at other spots," said first-year Tides manager John Gibbons.
Paul Ah Yat: The former Hawaii left-hander has been assigned to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Double-A Eastern League, the Altoona (Pa.) Curve. He finished the 1998 season at this level. Ah Yat has advanced to a higher level at midseason each of the past two years.
Darren Blakely: The former Rainbow center fielder begins the season at Anaheim's top Class A team, Lake Elsinore (California League). "He had a good spring defensively and we expect his hitting will come around. Speed is his best asset," said Tony Reagan, the Angels' manager of baseball operations.
Mark Johnson: The former UH right-hander begins his third pro season with his third team. The Yankees have assigned him to the Norwich (Conn.) Navigators in the Double-A Eastern League. Johnson spent the 1998 season in the same league as a Florida Marlins' farmhand before being traded to the Yankees, Feb. 1.
Kyle Kawabata: The right-hander from Kailua and Washington State allowed one earned run, four hits, one walk and fanned seven in nine innings of relief with the Philadelphia Phillies' Double-A Reading team (2 games) and Single-A Clearwater (8 games), but ended up returning to Clearwater to begin the Florida State League season.
Keith Luuloa: The Molokai High School graduate made quite an impression as a nonroster invitee to the Anaheim Angels spring camp before being assigned to Triple-A Edmonton (Alberta) in the Pacific Coast League. Luuloa played 24 games, hit .326 (15-for 46), with two doubles, a homer and 10 RBIs. He was used at first base, second, third and in left field.
Jeff Martin: It will be extended spring training for the right-hander from Kailua, who spent the winter months here rehabilitating his right elbow after surgery last fall. Martin, a right-hander in his third season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, spent most of 1998 on the disabled list hoping to rehabilitate the elbow without surgery.
Mike McCutcheon: The Arizona Diamondbacks are keeping the right-hander from Molokai in extended spring training and plan to assign him to a short-season team in June.
Bobby Moore: The 26-year-old right-hander from UH will begin the season with the Tulsa Drillers, the Texas Rangers' Double-A Texas League team. Moore was with Tulsa two seasons ago, before playing Class A ball in 1998.
Kelly Phair: After getting promoted to Double A last season, Phair, who played shortstop for UH for two years, is expected to start the season at the same level with the Southern League's Huntsville (Ala.) Stars in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization.
Jason Ross: The former Rainbow outfielder returns to the Atlanta Braves' top Class-A team, which has moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where a new stadium has been constructed for the Carolina League team.
Jay Spurgeon: "He had a good spring after a very good season last year," said Tom Trebelhorn, former Hawaii Islanders manager and coordinator of instruction for the Baltimore Orioles. "Basically we moved the whole pitching staff from Delmarva to Frederick (Md., in the Class-A Carolina League). Spurgeon, a 6-6 right-hander from UH, led Delmarva with 11 wins in 1998.
Kaipo Spenser: The Cleveland Indians have assigned the 6-3 right-hander from St. Anthony (Maui) and Arizona State to Kinston (N.C.) in the Single-A Carolina League. Spenser finished last season at Kinston.
Chris Truby: He had one hit in 14 at bats while in the big league camp and was optioned to Houston's Triple A team in New Orleans (Pacific Coast League) March 16. Truby, a Damien graduate who plays third base, is on the Astros 40-man roster and starting a season at the Triple A level for the first time in his six-year career.
Tyler Yates: The Waimea and UH-Hilo product has been assigned to the Visalia Oaks, one of two Oakland Athletics teams in the Class A California League. "He's thrilled. He's making his dreams come true," said Yates' mother, Janna.