After spending much of their time in the WAC as perennial conference title contenders, life has been tough for Hawaii since moving to the Big West.
Their overall records have been somewhat ugly and they’ve never finished better than fifth in the league standings. But, if you look a little bit closer, the Rainbow Warriors made some real strides last season. After going 11-16 and then 6-18 in their first two years in the Big West, they went 12-12 last season.
They’ve also started to really collect some significant talent again, and while they’ll be replacing a very productive quartet of pitchers in Tyler Brashears, L.J. Brewster, Quintin Torres-Costa, and Jarrett Arakawa, they’ve got a promising group of position players coming back for the 2016 season.
Leading the way will be shortstop Jacob Sheldon-Collins, who led the team in hitting a year ago at .295 and also ably fielded a premium defensive position at a .967 clip. Eric Ramirez, a physical sophomore, is also back after hitting .270 with a team-leading .371 on-base percentage. He slowed down as the season wore on after getting off to a blistering start, but with his frame and his plate discipline, he has the look of a guy who could break out.
It’s easy to feel the same way about Alex Sawelson, a 6’3″, 215-pound senior who flashed extra-base power at the JUCO level before hitting .262 with eight doubles for Hawaii last season. Over the summer for the Santa Paula Halos, he hit .304 with a team-leading 13 doubles, two home runs, and a team-best 17 RBI. Certainly, the program is hoping that his performance there will be a springboard for the 2016 season.
Outfielder Marcus Doi is another reason for some optimism. Two years ago, he hit .345 in a small sample size due in part to a sports hernia, leading to hope that he would take a star turn in 2015. It ended up being, however, a season of struggles for Doi, as he hit just .223.
The departures on the mound will make life tough for head coach Mike Trapasso and staff, particularly early on as roles are being defined, but this staff has a real track record of recruiting, and more importantly, developing, mound talent above all else. With all of the position player talent back, if some fresh faces on the pitching staff emerge quickly, the Rainbow Warriors could make yet another jump in 2016.