By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Waiakea catcher Kean Wong put up monster numbers in his final Big Island Interscholastic Federation baseball season, a grand exit after highlight performances in front of heightened expectations.
It was no ordinary senior season for Wong, a strong candidate for the Major League Baseball first-year player draft, who had scouts watching him like a hawk, and tracking his moments on and off the field at practices and games.
If an at-bat is a solo performance, the 6-foot left-handed slugger had to pull rabbits out of a hat or, even better, show a vast amount of a fisherman’s patience to wait for a good pitch to hit. Pitching around Wong simply became a hobby for opposing arms.
Then there was the challenge to repeat Waiakea’s success of a year ago, the school’s first state championship at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I tournament. Wong, along with pitcher Quintin Torres-Costa, was named the co-State Player of the Year by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
His offensive fireworks alone couldn’t carry Waiakea to a third straight BIIF title or another state championship. The Warriors were the league runner-up to Hilo, and lost to eventual state champion Mid-Pacific in the quarterfinals on Maui.
But Wong had a blast as a senior. He batted .435, posted a .563 on-base percentage, clubbed three homers and had 26 RBIs. He had 16 walks and 33 runs, team highs, along with his .903 slugging percentage, a stat that measures power. Wong had more extra-base hits (17) than singles (9), the only Warrior to do so.
He was named the BIIF Division I Player of the Year, in a vote by the league’s coaches, landing on the first team for the fourth time, and mirroring the path of his brother Kolten, who earned the top award as a Kamehameha senior in 2008.
“It’s an honor. I’m very thankful for the award,” Wong said. “I’m very happy and it means a lot. It’s what I worked for. The season went good. I wanted to get player of the year, and I wanted the state title, too. It didn’t turn out that way, but we gave it our all. Overall, the season was good.”
Wong is joined on the first team by three teammates: junior outfielder Kodi Medeiros (.492, .529 on-base, four homers, 36 RBIs), senior outfielder Andy Filoteo III (.328, .405 on-base, one homer, 17 RBIs) and junior pitcher Chase Komatsu (0-1, 4.41 ERA).
Hilo placed five players on the first team: senior utility Chayce Kaaua (.320, .575 on-base, 11 runs), senior second baseman Tyler Higa-Gonsalves (.389, .532 on-base, 14 runs), junior outfielders Jodd Carter (.594, .683 on-base, 10 runs) and Drew Kell (.425, .475 slugging, 13 RBIs), and senior third baseman Elijah Cruz (.276, .417 on-base, five RBIs).
The Vikings also had productive seasons from a trio of honorable-mention picks: senior pitchers Kian Kurokawa (3-1, 1.73 ERA in 28 innings; 2-0 in playoffs and states) and Kody Kaniho (2-1, 2.21 ERA in 19 innings), and junior first baseman Jalen Carvalho (.455, .538 on-base, .758 slugging, 15 RBIs).
Other first-team members are Kealakehe senior first baseman Bricen Ferreira, Keaau shortstop Jonathan Segovia, Kealakehe senior pitcher Teao Buehler and Keaau senior designated hitter Maleko Remlinger.
“The best thing about Kean was the presence he had on the field,” said departing Waiakea coach Kevin Yee, who will join the UH-Hilo baseball staff. “He was somebody you always had to look out for, on offense and defense. He was the rock of our defense. He was a game-changer.
“He would routinely take an extra base on a base hit. He’d find you an extra two or three bases a game, and defensively he would do the same whether he was behind the plate, at shortstop or second base. He’d make a lot of plays. It would be spectacular to other guys, but routine to him.”
Like his brother Kolten, a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, Wong played catcher as a senior, but figures to settle at second base on the pro level. Scouts have told him that’s his best fit.
He’s been invited to a MLB showcase for top draft prospects, scheduled to run Monday through Wednesday in Anaheim, Calif. The first day will be in front of Cardinals scouts, the next day for all other teams, and the third day reserved for interviews, likely to gauge his level of interest in signing a pro contract.
“It’s my dream to play pro ball,” said Wong, who has a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. “I have no clue where I’m going to get drafted. A lot of guys say top three rounds. Other scouts tell me top five or six rounds.
“The national cross-checkers have been calling me and my dad (Kaha Wong) a lot. The Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays have been calling me the most. Right now, my favorite team is the Cardinals because of Kolten. But on draft day, it’ll be the team that drafts me.”
The MLB draft will be held June 6-8. It will be covered live all three days by MLB.com. The MLB Network will broadcast only the first day.
Until then, Wong is refining his swing at his dad’s hitting school on Railroad Avenue behind Target, tugging a weighted sled, and taking grounders from Honokaa assistant coach Mel Jardine, who’s teaching him the finer points of turning the pivot at second base.
He’s the youngest of Kaha and Keala Wong’s three children. His sister Kiani is a 2012 Kamehameha graduate and a freshman on the Rainbow Wahine softball team. All three Wong siblings have been BIIF players of the year — Kiani in 2009 as a freshman pitcher. And for most of his life, the youngest Wong has been chasing his brother’s shadow.
He has his own top honor to put on a shelf. It will always be a reminder of a season filled with monster numbers. But more than anything, it will serve as motivation. The brothers have not only the same BIIF Player of the Year award, but also the same goal: to reach the big leagues.
“The biggest influences for me have been my dad and Kolten,” he said. “My dad always works with me every day and every night at his hitting cage. My brother tells me to give it all you’ve got to chase your baseball dream. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish your dream.”
Pos. Name Gr. School
1B: Bricen Ferreira Sr. Kealakehe
2B: Tyler Higa-Gonsalves Sr. Hilo
3B: Elijah Cruz Sr. Hilo
SS: Jonathan Segovia Sr. Keaau
P: Teao Buehler Sr. Kealakehe
P: Chase Komatsu Jr. Waiakea
C: Kean Wong Sr. Waiakea
OF: Kodi Medeiros Jr. Waiakea
OF: Jodd Carter Jr. Hilo
OF: Drew Kell Jr. Hilo
OF: Andy Filoteo Sr. Waiakea
U: Chayce Kaaua Sr. Hilo
DH: Maleko Remlinger Sr. Keaau
Player of the Year
Kean Wong, Waiakea
Coach of the Year
Tony DeSa, Hilo
• Hilo: Jalen Carvalho, Micah Kaaukai, Kody Kaniho, Kian Kurokawa
• Keaau: Byron Cachola, Racen Martinez, Cody Silva, Keha Wong
• Waiakea: Bryce Felipe, Caleb Freitas-Fields, Alika Guillermo, Aaron Nishiura, Ryder Oshiro, Trevor Shimokusu