The Hawaii baseball team opens training camp today with nine pitchers, maybe 10, whose fastballs have been clocked at 90 mph or faster.
But it is outfielder Adam Fogel’s surgically repaired right arm that is drawing the most attention. Fogel, who played in 10 games last year before suffering the season-ending injury, will throw in a baseball setting for the first time in 10 months during today’s practice at Les Murakami Stadium.
UH’s wish is Fogel will be in the lineup as the designated hitter or first baseman for the Feb. 7 season opener against UH Hilo. The Rainbow Warriors are hopeful Fogel can play in the outfield when Big West play begins on March 27.
The return of Fogel and infielder Dustin Demeter, who missed the 2019 season after undergoing two hip surgeries, should boost a lineup that lacked oomph last season. Of Fogel’s 118 career hits, 53 have been for extra bases. Demeter hit .283 in his first two UH seasons. Both are fourth-year juniors.
The 16-pitcher staff has seven newcomers, many of whom showed pitch command during fall training. “I was encouraged with the staff’s ability to pound the zone,” said head coach Mike Trapasso. who doubles as the pitching coach. “We threw strikes at a very encouraging clip this fall. That was our focus all fall.”
The roles are fluid, but at least seven pitchers are preparing to be potential starters. Translation: By the week leading to the opener, their arms will be strengthened for 75 to 80 pitches an outing.
Logan Pouelsen, who had a 1.89 ERA in his final three appearances last season, enters camp as a potential series-opening starter. Four years after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow as a high school senior, Pouelsen’s velocity is up to 93 mph. Pouelsen, who has four pitches, is viewed more as a pitcher than hitter this season.
Right-handers Cade Smith and Aaron Davenport are very good when they command their pitches, but they struggled with consistency last year. Smith has worked on his secondary pitches. “He’s a guy who can be special,” Trapasso said. Davenport has compacted his delivery, a tweaking that should help his fastball work well with a power curveball.
A fickle fastball diluted the effectiveness of Cade Halemanu’s deceptive changeup last season. But after conquering back issues, Halemanu’s fastball has jumped from 85-86 mph last year to 90-91 in the fall. Combined with the changeup and a third pitch he is developing, Halemanu has emerged as a potential starter.
Two left-handed newcomers — Tai Atkins, who throws 90 mph off a side-armed delivery, and Brandon Ross, whose best pitch is a biting curveball — are rotation candidates. The ’Bows are awaiting an eligibility timetable for Washington State transfer Trevor Ichimura.
Jeremy Wu-Yelland can be anywhere from closer to three-inning reliever. Not counting one bad inning, Wu-Yelland had a 1.49 ERA and averaged 8.6 strikeouts in nine innings in the prestigious Cape Cod League this past summer. With a fastball touching 97 mph, Wu-Yelland has the potential to be drafted in the first five rounds in June.
Injuries sabotaged the plan to have Tyler Murray and Dallas Duarte split time behind the plate last year. But with health and depth no longer issues, both will share the catcher’s workload, at least in pre-conference play. Murray hit .321 with runners in scoring position and .325 with two outs. Duarte, who hit .261 as a freshman, started twice as many games at second, third and designated hitter (30) than at catcher (15).
There are left-hitting complements at the corners with Alex Baeza and Demeter the leading candidates at first and third, respectively. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, Baeza is a plus-defender with range. “As long as he’s healthy, he’s one of our top guys,” Trapasso said. Baeza has gap power and a hunger for right-handed pitching (.330). Fogel, Matt Campos and DH types Brennan Hancock and Ryder Kuhns also are first-base options.
Demeter played shortstop as a freshman and second as sophomore. But he appeared to be a comfortable fit at the hot corner in the fall. Campos, who is skilled at all the infield spots, is another possibility at third. So, too, are freshmen Stone Miyao, Aaron Ujimori and Bubba Akana. Campos, Miya and Ujimori also are candidates to start at second.
“Bubba can be a high-profile player in a couple years,” Trapasso said of Akana, who also can play short. “Bubba doesn’t know how good Bubba is. He has all of the tools — great arm, quickness, strong, physical. He has a chance to be special.”
During the fall, Kole Kaler, a switch hitter who transferred from South Mountain Community College (Ariz.), emerged as the top shortstop because of his maturity, leadership and execution hitting.
Fogel’s injury was part of a scramble resulting in outfielders being out of position. Matt Wong, a Saint Louis School graduate who played at College of Southern Nevada the past two years, gets the first shot at center and Murakami’s crosswinds. “He has the tools you look for and the instincts you can’t teach,” Trapasso said. “He has a great jump. He runs balls down. He has a tremendous arm. He has a good swing, and he can hit for power. He’s draft eligible. His tools could decide whether he’s here for a second year.”
Scotty Scott, who hit .291 and scored a team-high 36 runs as a leadoff hitter, is back at left field. He moved to center following Fogel’s injury. Daylen Calicdan, who hit .316, will be in the lineup as a left fielder or DH. Tyler Best, who was recruited as a second baseman and played some third in the fall, is the incumbent in right field. But Atkins and Vince Reilly — pitchers who can hit — might seize the job in right. The picture can change when Fogel returns to full health.