Draft : : State Preview
Sunday, May 22, 2011

State Preview: Hawaii

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Hawaii

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.

Hawaii State-by-State List

Hawaii Overview:
Native Hawaiian Wong Ready to Make Draft History in Nation’s 50th State

Hawaii has had two distinct golden eras over the life of the baseball draft.

The first was essentially the 10-year period from 1978-87, when the University of Hawaii was in the national spotlight on almost an annual basis and made its only College World Series appearance in 1980.

Fabled Rainbows lefthander Derek Tatsuno was a product of that period, and still holds the NCAA single-season strikeout record of 234, set in 1979 (the record may come into clearer focus in the next several weeks as UCLA righthander Trevor Bauer has 175 strikeouts to date, and counting). Tatsuno was a second-round pick in 1979, the highest draft pick in UH history to that point, and righthander Mike Campbell eventually upstaged him when he was taken with the seventh overall pick in 1985, effectively becoming the highest-draft pick ever to come from Hawaii.

In that decade-long stretch, the Rainbows produced 18 players, led by Tatsuno and Campbell, that were drafted in the top 10 rounds.

The other era of significance came in the five-year window from 1997-01, when Hawaii’s high-school ranks produced the four highest draft picks in state history—supplemental first-rounders Jerome Williams (1999) and Bronson Sardinha (2001), and second-rounders Brandon League (2001) and Dane Sardinha (1997).

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, a sixth-round pick in 1999 and the most successful Hawaiian big-leaguer of recent vintage, also came from that era. As did righthander Justin Wayne, a Hawaii prep product (ninth round, 1997) who became the highest-drafted Hawaiian native ever when he was taken with the fifth overall pick out of Stanford University in 2000.

That checkered draft history brings us to 2011, and what could be a historic draft for the nation’s 50th state. University of Hawaii second baseman Kolten Wong is projected to be selected in the latter half of the first round this year, which would make him the first Hawaiian ever to attend a college on the islands and emerge as a first-round draft pick.

Only twice before has the state’s primary university produced a first-rounder—Campbell, a Washington high-school product, in 1985; and righthander Mark Johnson, a Californian, in 1996—and Wong’s selection in the first round would be big news on a lot of different fronts in Hawaii.

Tatsuno is still considered the greatest home-state product to ever play at Hawaii. Yet while he was drafted four times over the years, both before and after his three-year career with the Rainbows, Tatsuno was never selected higher than the second round in 1979. That opens the door for Wong.

Pound for pound, there may not be a better prospect in the entire 2011 draft class than the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Wong. He has well-rounded skills, but his approach and productivity at the plate is what sets him apart.

Wong leads the Rainbows this season in every meaningful offensive category, including batting (.375), homers (6), RBIs (49), walks (39) and stolen bases (22). He has polished offensive skills with a sound approach from the left side of the plate, and surprising pop for a player his size. He is also an accomplished base stealer.

Defensively, Wong has found a home at second base after being an extremely versatile player earlier in his career. He spent most of his freshman season at Hawaii in center field, and was tried as a catcher initially as a sophomore.

Wong’s success as a home-state product was somewhat in the cards from the start as he was a 16th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2008 coming out of Honolulu’s Kamehameha High. In fact, this act could be repeated in the coming years as Wong’s younger brother Kean, a sophomore at Hilo’s Waiakea High, is the top-ranked prospect in Hawaii’s 2013 draft class. He is not only on the same career path at Kolten, but he, too, has committed to stay close to home and play at Hawaii.

The two-pronged measuring stick for a college of on-field success and meaningful role in the draft hasn’t always been pointed in a positive direction in recent years at the University of Hawaii. Not only has it been 31 years since the school last played in the College World Series, but until last year, the Rainbows had been on the outside looking in when NCAA regional bids were extended in 15 of the previous 16 years.

But Hawaii secured a regional bid in 2010 when it unexpectedly won the Western Athletic Conference post-season tournament, and with Wong leading the charge again, another regional berth should be there for the taking this year. The Rainbows finished the 2011 season with a fine 17-7 mark in WAC play while playing a rugged schedule overall.

Moreoever, Wong won’t be Hawaii’s only impact talent in this year’s draft. Six-foot-3 California-reared closer Lenny Linsky, whose fastball has been routinely up to 96 mph this spring, also has been targeted in the top three rounds.

Hawaii’s high-school ranks, meanwhile, may be hard-pressed to produce a single pick in the top 8-10 rounds. Iolani High lefthander Carlos Rodriguez is the state’ top-ranked prep prospect, but he is not far enough along the development path with a fastball in the high-80s.

Unfortunately—for the future well-being of the UH program, at least—the state’s top three prep prospects, Rodriguez (Oregon State), OF/RHP Kalei Contrades (San Jose State) and RHP Robert Kahana (Kansas)—are all headed for colleges on the U.S. mainland a year from now, if, as expected, they bypass the 2011 draft.

That situation also occurred a year ago, when David “Kaiana” Eldredge V, whose father David IV was a former star at Hawaii’s Punahou High and is currently the baseball coach at Southern Utah, committed to play at Kansas. Eldredge had been a two-time all-state selection at a high school in Cedar City, Utah, but returned to his native Hawaii to play his senior year of baseball at Punahou. That kept intact a long-standing tradition on the part of the Eldredge family of playing at Punahou High—even if he was unsuccessful in prolonging the school’s streak of six consecutive state high-school titles.

Hawaii in a Nutshell:

All-consuming presence of Kolten Wong.
WEAKNESS: Prep talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 3.


BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Hawaii connection:
Paul Sneider, 1b/rhp, Northwestern University.
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Pi’ikea Kitamura, ss, University of Hawaii.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Kean Wong, of, Waiamea HS, Hilo.

Draft History: Mike Campbell, rhp, U. of Hawaii (1985, Mariners/1st round, 7th pick).
2006 Draft: Steven Wright, rhp, U. of Hawaii (Indians/2nd round).
2007 Draft: Tyler Davis, rhp, U. of Hawaii (Padres/21st round).
2008 Draft: Dustin Antolin, rhp, Mililani HS (Blue Jays/11th round).
2009 Draft: Vinnie Catricala, 3b, U. of Hawaii (Mariners/10th round).
2010 DRAFT: Josh Slaats, rhp, U. of Hawaii (Rockies/5th round).

Best Hitter: Kolten Wong, 2b, University of Hawaii.
Best Power: Kolten Wong, 2b, University of Hawaii.
Best Speed: Kolten Wong, 2b, University of Hawaii.
Best Defender: Kolten Wong, 2b, University of Hawaii.
Best Velocity: Lenny Linsky, rhp, University of Hawaii.
Best Breaking Stuff: Lenny Linsky, rhp, University of Hawaii.


(Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)

1. KOLTEN WONG, 2b, University of Hawaii (Jr.)
Nation’s elite college 2B; quality, well-rounded skills; does it all at plate/on bases/in field, even in 5-9 frame.
2. LENNY LINSKY, rhp, University of Hawaii (Jr.)
Dominated as UH closer (1-1, 1.39, 12 SV, 32 IP/7 BB/31 SO) with FB up to 96, 84-86 SL; profiles as closer.

(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

3. CARLOS RODRIGUEZ, lhp, Iolani HS, Kapolei
Poised, confident LHP with athletic 6-2/195 frame; FB steady 86-89 mph, 81 SL; committed to Oregon State.

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