By JOHN DE GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
Kolton Yamaguchi has a track record of capitalizing on opportunities.
The Konawaena graduate came out of seemingly nowhere to lead Pepperdine University in batting as a sophomore, hitting .309 with six doubles, four home runs and 18 RBIs, and he was also named to the 2013 All-West Coast Conference baseball team.
“I got a decent amount a playing time my freshman year, but it was not necessarily a starting role,” Yamaguchi said. “Our starting catcher was a fifth-year senior so I expected to play behind him, but the coaches were trying to find a way to get me in the lineup.”
The opportunity came for Yamaguchi when starting catcher Nate Johnson went down with a freak hamstring injury just 13 games into the season.
“The competition was between Kolton and James Grandpre for the starting role, but Kolton really grabbed a hold of the opportunity to be Pepperdine’s starting catcher,” said Shotgun Spratling of College Baseball Daily. “Kolton was a guy that provided some offense for Pepperdine – a team that lost some offense coming into the season. He stepped at the plate and from behind it.”
Yamaguchi’s coming out party was March 12 against USC.
For his first two hits of the season, Yamaguchi launched home runs in consecutive at-bats to dead center and right field.
“I just got up there and did my thing,” Yamaguchi said. “It’s a whole different world playing college ball. I went from playing in front of family and a few friends at Konawaena to thousands. When we played at USC the stadium was packed. I embrace that kind of atmosphere.”
Pepperdine was not always in the plans for Yamaguchi.
During his senior year at Konawaena, Yamaguchi capitalized on a situation that landed him in the orange and blue earlier than expected.
“Honestly, college was not in my mind at all at the time,” Yamaguchi said. “I was looking forward to my senior season, and the opportunity came out of the blue.”
Yamaguchi caught the eye of Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez when playing for Kaha Wong in a three-day showcase at Oahu’s Hans L’Orange Field.
“Little did I know my future head coach was sitting in the crowd,” Yamaguchi said. “He ended up giving me an offer that paid for the majority of my schooling, and here I am.”
Despite attention from the University of Hawaii and scouts from the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates, Yamaguchi developed a strong relationship with Rodriguez.
Yamaguchi took a heavy load of studies his senior year and decided to forgo his senior season so he could graduate in December and join Rodriguez and his new teammates in the spring. The rest is history.
Despite his stellar performance on the field, the question going forward about Yamaguchi is about his size.