A lot of attention will be targeted on Waiakea senior left-hander Kodi Medeiros, who is projected to be a first-round pick in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft in June.
Medeiros will draw his first start March 19 when the Warriors open the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season at Kealakehe, allowing scouts to soak in the West Hawaii resorts after they file their reports.
From a league perspective, just as much focus will be on Waiakea’s offense, which lost a lot of firepower from one big bat: Kean Wong, the league’s Division I player of the year, who’s now playing for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The question for the Warriors is simple: Can their offense be helpful enough to back the one-two pitching punch of Medeiros and sophomore Caleb Freitas-Fields?
In his last start at the Stanley Costales Sr. Memorial/Hilo High preseason tournament on Feb. 20, Medeiros went three innings and took a 2-1 loss to Leilehua.
The little Mules (most were 5 feet 5 or shorter) geared up for his fastball, started their swings before Medeiros released the ball, and scratched him for two runs on three soft seeing-eye singles, a walk and hit batter.
However, scouts clocked his fastball in the 90- to 92-mph range, and reaching 95 mph. Medeiros whiffed six, including five in a row, displaying the dominant stuff that led to a full-ride scholarship from Pepperdine.
Freitas-Fields doesn’t throw as hard as Medeiros, but the right-hander earned his big-game chops in the BIIF playoffs last year. He threw 65 pitches and beat Keaau 3-0 in the semifinals. That efficient three-hitter was on a Friday.
The BIIF championship was rained out Saturday. On Sunday, Hilo edged Waiakea 8-5 in 11 innings for the title. Freitas-Fields — on one day’s rest — threw five innings, starting with four scoreless innings before allowing three runs in the 11th.
Freitas-Fields was running on fumes: He pitched 12 total innings on short rest, and earned the nickname, “Workhorse.”
In that game, Wong was 1 for 4 but walked twice and scored three runs. Medeiros was 4 for 6 with two RBIs. Freitas-Fields was 2 for 5 with two RBIs. Everyone else was 2 for 28, a .071 batting average.
Jensen Sato, a 2007 Waiakea graduate, who played at Graceland University, an NAIA school in Iowa, takes over for Kevin Yee as coach. Sato was an assistant last year, and he’s got several holdovers from the old staff, including Gregg Waki.
“He’s been here since 1985. Waki’s a legend and the most positive guy,” Sato said. “We’re young and have a lot of potential in all aspects. But that word potential is scary. Some teams live up to it. Some don’t.
“Our offense is slowly coming around. It’ll take all 22 guys on the team to win. They all have to contribute for us to be really successful. They’ve got good character, work hard, and are buying into the system — small-ball, pitching and defense.”
Several pitchers got time last season. Calvin Uemura, then a freshman, threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the BIIF championship. Evan Ishihara, a junior, logged innings and Chase Komatsu, a senior, had a few starts.
“Kodi works hard to make his teammates around him better. That’s what big-time players do. He doesn’t just play for himself,” Sato said. “It’s his work ethic and leadership and he carries that stature that the guys follow. I’m pretty sure the kids love it that the scouts are there, and to play with somebody who’s potentially going to be drafted in the first round.
“Caleb has improved a lot. He has command of three pitches, fastball, curveball, changeup. He’s not afraid and he’s so aggressive on the big stage. The kid has a lot of heart. Chase, Evan and Calvin will be crucial and we’ll need them throughout the year, especially with the new playoffs. I like it. It’s interesting and something different. It’ll make the playoffs are lot more exciting.”
At catcher, junior Bryce Felipe, senior Tyler Aburamen and Mackanzay Maesaka are in the running.
The first-base candidates are sophomore and last year’s starting third baseman Taylor Mondina, junior Ryder Oshiro and senior Kallen Ishii.
Junior and returning starter Trevor Shimokusu has competition in Michael Jitchaku.
Freitas-Fields will start at shortstop and all the infield leftover candidates will challenge for playing time.
Mondina may hold down his spot at third base or Matt Camacho could get penciled in at the hot corner.
In the outfield, Gehrig Octavio, Devin Iwahashi, Grant Nonaka and Nate Minami will fight for the three positions.
“The competition makes you tougher,” said Sato, a teacher at Ka‘u Middle School. “It teaches you how to compete and not just baseball. It prepares you for the real world when you go out for a job. You’re competing for a job with everyone else.”