A lot of attention will be targeted on Waiakea senior left-hander Kodi Medeiros, who’s projected to be a first-round pick in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft in June, and whose every movement will be watched like a hawk by scouts.
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 game reports.
From a league perspective just as much focus will be on his team’s offense, which lost a load of firepower with one big bat: Kean Wong, the league’s Division I player of the year, who’s tearing it up for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The question for the Warriors is a simple one: 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. It was something of a familiar scenario from a year ago.
The little Mules (most were 5 feet 5 or smaller) 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 topping out at 95 mph. Medeiros whiffed six, including five in a row, displaying the dominant stuff that led to a full-ride scholarship from Pepperdine — valuable financial leverage when scouts ask about his sticker price.
Freitas-Fields doesn’t throw nowhere near as hard as Medeiros (no one in the state does), but the right-hander earned his big-game chops in the BIIF playoffs last year as a freshman. 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. In a rare Sunday game, Hilo edged Waiakea 8-5 in 11 innings for the title. Freitas-Fields — on one day’s rest — threw five innings in the loss, starting with four scoreless innings before allowing three runs in the 11th.
It was obvious that Freitas-Fields was running on fumes. He pitched 12 total innings on short rest as a freshman. But he 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 pitching youngsters got mound time last season. Calvin Uemura, then a cool-cat 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.”
Sato is putting all starting spots in his lineup up for grabs. In his mind, there’s nothing like competition as an early life lesson.
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, who’s described as the “ultimate team player,” by Sato.
Junior and returning starter Trevor Shimokusu, whose dad Kyle Shimokusu owns a golf training center on Kilauea Avenue, 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 be in a musical chairs competition to fill 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.”
In 2012 as sophomore, Medeiros was lights out at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I tournament to help Waiakea’s bring home its first state championship.
Medeiros was never 100 percent last season as a junior. He was diagnosed with a muscle strain in his elbow. His first start last year was in the BIIF championship against the Vikings, who tagged him for five runs (two unearned) on four hits, three walks, four hit batters in 3 2/3 innings.
After rest and rehab, Medeiros put himself on MLB’s radar with several outstanding performances at high-profile showcases during summer, bringing a flock of scouts to evaluate him in every conceivable manner.
“They don’t talk much about the draft. It’s more general stuff and talking story,” he said. “They’ll ask if you have a bad day do you dwell on it or come back and try harder. They’ll ask what kind of work ethic you have.
“I’m pretty disciplined at home. I’ll do all my exercises for my arm, body and conditioning before I’ll do anything else. I’ve added five pounds and now I’m 6 feet 1 and 190 pounds. By June, I want to weigh 195 pounds.”
Ask Medeiros who his pitching role model is and he’ll quickly name two left-handers: Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox.
Both have unconventional arm slots — Bumgarner is right below three-quarter much like Medeiros and the comparison scouts use when filing reports on the Waiakea southpaw.
One scout at Hilo’s preseason tourney said it helps Medeiros’ value that Bumgarner, with almost the same delivery as Medeiros from the takeaway to his load to his weight transfer and drop-and-drive release, has never suffered any major arm issues.
As far as his elbow strain from a year ago, Medeiros, who said he’s 100 percent healthy, will be poked and examined by MLB team doctors before the June 5-7 draft.
Until then, Medeiros will look forward to his final season in a Waiakea Warrior uniform.
“I want to keep working hard and keep getting stronger with both my body and pitching,” he said. “Team-wise I want to lead by example. My main goal is to win BIIFs and go to states and win the championship.”