The turnover began immediately following the end of the 2010 Hawaii baseball season.
Seven seniors were out of eligibility as soon as Arizona State eliminated Hawaii from its second NCAA tournament in 17 years. Over the next two days, four more Rainbows, who all eventually signed, were selected in the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Add in Nick Croce and Derek Brown, who left the team, and four recruits who were drafted and signed with pro teams, and the Rainbows have done a lot of maneuvering during a busy offseason.
Yesterday, the new crop of Rainbows took the field at Les Murakami Stadium as Hawaii began spring practice in preparation for Feb. 18’s home opener against No. 9 Oregon.
"There’s no question we lost some guys, and there’s definitely going to be a learning curve," Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso said. "The reality is, catcher is the one position I’m most concerned over."
Projected starter David Peterson, a junior college transfer from Santa Ana College in California, entered the fall with a tender elbow and hasn’t been able to practice.
The 15 new players on the 2011 Rainbow baseball team:
*Will also play in the field
Hawaii has two other new catchers on its roster, but sophomore Pi’ikea Kitamura, who started 61 games at third base at year ago, spent time in the fall behind the plate and could catch games if Peterson isn’t healthy.
Trapasso also hinted that Kolten Wong could play third on occasions when Kitamura is behind the plate.
Either way, expect more combinations of lineups compared to last year, when Hawaii’s four primary infielders all made at least 60 starts at their respective positions.
"We’re definitely going to be playing some righty/lefty guys at first base … and have a lot of numbers in the outfield that allows us to be flexible," Trapasso said. "It’s hard to lose eight guys in the draft and not have depth issues, but we’ve done a fairly good job with that."
UH will have new starters at shortstop and first base with the loss of three-year starters Greg Garcia (drafted by St. Louis) and Kevin Macdonald (senior).
North Carolina transfer Matt Harrison, a sophomore from Las Vegas, was granted an exemption by the NCAA to play this season and will step right in to replace Garcia.
"That was big because he can play shortstop and we expect him to be a very good player for us," Trapasso said.
First team All-Western Athletic Conference designated hitter Jeff Van Doornum is healthy enough to play first base, and the Rainbows also have incoming juniors AJ Bayus and Michael Blake and returnee Easton Torigoe, who will also compete for time.
Junior Collin Bennett, who along with Van Doornum and Wong should make up a powerful middle of the lineup, leads a crowded group of outfielders.
In his first season with the ‘Bows, Bennett hit .323 with a team-high 19 doubles, and started his UH career with an eight-game hitting streak despite playing in a surprisingly raucous atmosphere.
"Last year, I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t realize how these fans pack the stands and make it so loud in here," Bennett said. "We’re just going to try and do what we did last year and, if me and Kolten and Jeff are hitting in the middle, try to hit the ball well and drive in runs."
The pitching staff also has gone through a fairly big overhaul, but junior Matt Sisto, who arguably was UH’s best starter at the end of the season, will be at the top of the rotation.
Sisto continued that momentum into the summer, where he finished with a sub-2.00 ERA in the Cape Cod League, the premier summer league for the top college prospects.
"Going into it, you hear about the Cape Cod and all the best players, and especially being successful, it was a lot of fun," Sisto said. "I was pretty happy with it, had pretty good numbers, had a stretch of about four games where I didn’t give up any runs, and it was a really good experience."