This Jose-Altuve-Sized Hit Machine Leads Hawaiʻi Pacific Baseball Into 2018

This weekend, the west side gets this island’s first glimpse of college baseball. The Hawaiʻi Pacific University Sharks open their 2018 season with four weekend games at Hans L’Orange Park in Waipahu.

Games are:

  • Friday, 6pm
  • Saturday (doubleheader), first game at 2pm
  • Sunday, Noon

The Sharks finished 20-28-2 last season, 8th in the 10-team Pacwest Conference. But that losing record is misleading. HPU actually scored more runs than they allowed last year. The luck ought to even out, as should an experienced lineup.

Hawaiʻi Pacific Baseball Season Preview: The Offense

The Sharks’ starting lineup is almost fully intact from last year—the Sharks had 102 extra base hits in 2017, and guys on the 2018 roster players hit 93 of those.

Tanner Tokunaga, HPU Baseball

Tanner Tokunaga (Via HPU)

Pearl City High grad Tanner Tokunaga leads that offense both figuratively and literally. From game to game, head coach Garett Yukumoto deploys his players in many positional and batting order combos, but Tokunaga’s role is constant. Every game, he’s leading off, playing centerfield.

Why, coach? “He’s got that competitiveness and tenaciousness that puts a spark into us,” Yukumoto told me. “He can run, he can hit, and he proved that this summer.”

For college baseball players, the prime summer internship is a spot in one of the summer wood bat leagues on the mainland. Tokunaga not only got an invite—joining the Chico Heat of the Great West League—he batted .386 and led the league in hits.

Tokunaga isn’t a big guy, at 5’7″, but if you paid attention to the World Series you may have noticed that height is not a requirement for baseball success.

The bottom line: HPU was 6th in the Pac-West conference in runs scored last year, with nearly every player back, they should get into the top three or four.

Hawaiʻi Pacific Baseball Season Preview: The Pitching and Defense

We know much less about the Sharks’ pitching staff. Last year’s ace, All-American Matthew Gunter is gone, drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays. Two more key starters moved on as well.

Coach Yukumoto told me that rotation for the season’s opening four-game series against Minnesota-Crookson will be:

Tyler Van Stone, a junior from Nevada who started three games last year. I’m rooting for Van Stone because he lists James Paxton of my beloved Seattle Mariners as one of his favorite pitchers—and puts him in some pretty esteemed company.

Marc Sauceda, a transfer from Palomar Community College, near San Diego. Sauceda didn’t play much last year. When he did, it was mostly at first base; he pitched just 2.1 innings.

Christian Miller, a transfer from Edmonds Community College near Seattle. Miller pitched just 5 games last year.

Charlie Brooks, who pitched in 6 games for HPU in 2016 but didn’t appear in a game last year.

“Unproven” would be a fair assessment, I feel. Sauceda, in particular, will need to pitch more innings on Saturday afternoon than he did all of last season to get a win.

One way the Sharks could help out their inexperienced pitchers would be to cut down on errors. Their 97 errors in conference play last year was worst in the league.

Can local kid Tokunaga keep up his hot hitting? Will the new pitchers blossom? We’ll all find out together this weekend. Hope to see you at Hans L’ Orange!