Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso went to the mainland, and stayed home, to fill his need at catcher.
Junior college transfer David Peterson is the guy pegged to replace David Freitas, drafted in the 15th round by the Washington Nationals, as UH’s starting catcher when the season opens tomorrow night at Les Murakami Stadium against No. 9 Oregon.
PLAYERS BY POSITION
However, an elbow injury that arose at the start of fall practice has limited Peterson’s offseason to the point that Pi’ikea Kitamura, last year’s starting third baseman, and even Kolten Wong, could all fit into the rotation behind the plate.
"When we lost two catchers to the draft and be in this situation, we knew Pi’ikea could be a guy to transition there because he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm, he’s got the toughness and competitiveness you want," Trapasso said.
Kitamura, who didn’t catch in high school, has gone through the growing pains of learning a new position.
He’s taken balls off the wrist and neck and foot and spent more time than normal in the training room after practice, but feels he’s reached the point that he’s ready if needed.
"I feel ready that I can play the game (at catcher)," Kitamura said. "Physically it’s been the biggest change because it’s really grueling on you and your legs are sore and all that.
"You just have to suck it up and play hurt."
Once upon a time, the Rainbows seemed set at the catching position for 2011. A late-season tear by Freitas got him drafted instead of returning for his senior year, and commit Keanu Carmichael signed with the Seattle Mariners after he was selected in the sixth round of the draft.
Peterson, who originally signed with Rice out of high school before transferring to Santa Ana College in California, signed with the Rainbows shortly after the draft. He was projected to be the team’s starting catcher until pain in his elbow cut his fall schedule short.
"I’ve been going to rehab since October, working really hard to get back into it," Peterson said. "I started throwing seriously about a month ago and ever since then it’s been going pretty well."
Peterson was healthy enough to play in the alumni game, a sign that he’ll be good to go for tomorrow night’s opener.
He hit .394 with two homers and 21 RBIs in 2010 and singled in his first two at-bats last Saturday.
While he was hurt, he was able to catch pitchers in bullpen sessions, but wasn’t allowed by the doctors to swing until roughly six weeks ago.
"Hitting is one of those things that’s just rhythm and timing, and it’s been about a month since I’ve started hitting so I’m happy with the way it’s going," Peterson said. "Now it’s just a matter of getting through the game, and I feel good about the way I’ve worked hard to get back healthy."
Without Peterson, Kitamura would catch, creating a ripple effect in the infield.
Trapasso has the option of moving shortstop Matt Harrison to third and playing Jesse Moore at short, or could move freshman Conner George into the starting spot at third.
However, if Peterson is healthy to play consistently behind the plate, then Kitamura expects to continue to make the strides he made as a freshman at third.
"As much work as I want to put in at catcher, I know at third base I still have to be as solid as I want to be," Kitamura said. "I’m trying to stay balanced, but there’s definitely more emphasis on the catcher spot since I have to try and catch up."
Wong, who yesterday was named to the 2011 Perfect Game USA Preseason Baseball All-America first team, caught his entire high-school career at Kamehameha-Hawaii.
He’s also spent practice time at catcher and helped Kitamura — a Kamehameha alumnus — make the transition.
"I’ve been working with him because I’ve caught a little bit, and he’s good because it seems to come kind of natural to him," Wong said. "I told him the main thing is he’s got to take care of his knees, because when I was catching, my knees would always give me problems, and that’s the main thing because you don’t want to lose your speed because you know you’ve got to hit and do all that other stuff, too."