Play ball, 'Bows!
POSTED: Thursday, February 19, 2009
Jayson Kramer took one look at the seats in Les Murakami Stadium and motioned toward where he sat as a kid.
Hawaii vs. UC Irvine; 6:35 p.m. tomorrow, 1:05 p.m. Saturday (2) and Sunday; Les Murakami Stadium; TV: KFVE; Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
"Season tickets in Section B or something like that," Kramer said. "Growing up watching guys like Billy Blanchette. Todd Takayoshi was my favorite player back then. It's a real honor."
Four years ago, the Mid-Pacific graduate got his first chance to put on the hometown uniform he hoped to wear after watching UH's baseball teams in the early 1990s.
Three seasons and 54 relief appearances later, Kramer will make his first start in the green and white to kick off the 2009 season tomorrow night against No. 9 UC Irvine.
"For Coach (Mike Trapasso) to pick me to fill that role is a real honor for me," Kramer said.
With Jared Alexander still working his way back from injury, Kramer takes control of a rotation that will feature a little bit of everything this weekend.
On Saturday, Hawaii will start Nathaniel Klein, a junior transfer from Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Anteaters. Klein originally signed with Southern California out of high school and redshirted a season for the Trojans before having Tommy John surgery.
In the nightcap, sophomore Alex Capaul, who struggled in four starts last year before pitching out of the bullpen, gets the nod.
Sunday's starter is 6-foot-5 freshman Matt Sisto, rated a top-150 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2008 MLB draft. Sisto, from Anaheim, Calif., didn't throw his entire senior year in high school.
"Obviously, when Jared gets healthy then we're at full strength as a staff and then you're really going to be able to see the makeup of our guys," Trapasso said. "But that doesn't mean we're just going to be treading water until Jared gets back.
"We're still going out there and expecting our four guys to go out there and pitch well."
Capaul is one of three sophomores who combined for 13 starts last season.
Sam Spangler, who excelled late in the year, and Josh Slaats, named to the preseason All-WAC team, will be key coming out of the bullpen. Even though Slaats finished with a 7.09 ERA last season, his performance in the summer in the Cape Cod league immediately raised his expectations.
"I was definitely surprised when I heard about (the All-WAC nod)," Slaats said. "I didn't have that great a season last year, but I had a good experience this summer and hopefully I can continue it."
With Alexander already out, Hawaii received another blow when two-way player Jesse Moore broke his thumb fielding grounders last week. He's expected to be out three weeks, and junior Alex Myers and freshman Lenny Linsky are limited to "an inning or two" this weekend as they work their way toward getting healthy.
Hawaii gets a break because the second game of doubleheaders will only be seven innings, unlike the back-to-back nine-inning games played last year. The Rainbows play eight twin bills this year.
"You just have to be tough," first baseman Kevin Macdonald said. "We have a lot of good pitchers that I think are really going to surprise some people."
Macdonald is one of four returning starters with a strong hold on their positions, joining Landon Hernandez (catcher), Greg Garcia (shortstop) and Vinnie Catricala (third base).
Returnees Matt Roquemore and Sean Montplaisir will be in two of the outfield spots, with veteran Jeff Van Doornum and junior college transfer Christian Johnson, a former 'Iolani standout, battling in right field. Van Doornum may also spend time at designated hitter, along with freshman Daniel Howell, another Baseball America top-150 prospect out of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Highly touted freshman Kolten Wong (Kamehameha-Hawaii '08), drafted in the 16th round of last year's MLB draft by Minnesota before opting to go to Hawaii, can be used all over the place. He can play some center field, but looks like he'll start out at second base.
"We've got about 12 position players that we will want to get involved," Trapasso said. "The good thing is with the doubleheaders all the time, we'll be playing more guys in different spots."
Senior Landon Hernandez (.277, 5 HR, 30 RBIs) has 112 career starts at catcher and provided a big boost when he returned to the Rainbows for his senior year. Junior Kevin Fujii has started 17 games as Hernandez's backup.
Junior Kevin Macdonald (.249, 38 RBIs) saw his average drop 65 points as a sophomore, but is poised for a bounce-back year. Solid defensively (.991 fielding percentage).
The mystery position, with freshman Kolten Wong and seniors Ryan Morford and Shane Hoey battling for time. Jon Hee's offensive production won't be as hard to replace as his solid defense.
Sophomore Greg Garcia couldn't have done much more as a freshman, batting .312, including a strong finish. Should be able to cut down on team-high 13 errors with a year of experience under his belt.
Junior Vinnie Catricala saved a rough season with a late push to finish with a .280 average. Tied for second on the team with five homers and slugged over 400. Could improve on his .949 fielding percentage.
Sophomore Sean Montplaisir faded down the stretch offensively, but didn't commit an error in 36 chances. Jeff Van Doornum (.442 slugging percentage) has excellent opposite-field power, becoming one of four players under coach Mike Trapasso with 20 or more doubles in a season. Junior Matt Roquemore brings 11-game hitting streak into the season. Christian Johnson, a junior college transfer, brings a big bat with him.
In a crowded outfield, Van Doornum may find himself manning the DH spot, although freshman Daniel Howell might see some time here. If one of the outfielders goes down, this spot might be saved for whoever is swinging the hot bat. Alex Myers is another possibility, splitting duties between offense and pitching.
Question marks everywhere. Will Jared Alexander be able to return to form this season? Can Jayson Kramer make the move to starter and be effective? Will sophomores Alex Capaul, Sam Spangler and Josh Slaats bounce back from tough first seasons? How will newcomers Mike Sisto and Nathaniel Klein do as starters? Can new faces Lenny Linsky, Connor Little, Jesse Moore and Ryan Davis step up? Will returnees Alex Myers, Harrison Kuroda and John Worthington make a difference? This will decide how far UH goes.