Recent Waiakea graduate Kalai Rosario put himself on Major League Baseball’s radar last summer when he won a home run derby at the Area Code Games.
The five-round MLB draft will be held Wednesday and Thursday, and Rosario is expected to be the first pick from Hawaii.
Rosario is ranked 88th in Baseball America’s top 500, which projects to the third round and a signing bonus of $667,500.
Scouts are checking in via Zoom calls.
“I’m still keeping in touch with scouts,” he said. “It’s hard to say which ones have the most interest. They just like to see what I’m up to.”
The countdown to the draft can’t come soon enough for Rosario.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m ready to share this moment with friends and family.”
His teammate Safea Villaruz-Mauai and Hilo High infielder Maui Ahuna have outside shots at being drafted. They’re ranked 450th and 435th, outside of the top five rounds. Under normal circumstances, the draft is 40 rounds and the Big Island would have three sure-fire selections, but it was slashed to five rounds last month as major league teams try to recoup lost revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All the BIIF players have the leverage of college. Rosario signed with Cal Baptist, Villaruz-Mauai with UH-Manoa and Ahuna with Kansas. Players not selected can sign with teams beginning on June but are limited to signing bonuses of $20,000 or less.
For someone like Villaruz-Mauai, the draft’s uncertainty can put him on pins and needles.
“I’m both nervous and excited. If my name gets called, it’s my time,” he said.
If he’s not drafted, Villaruz-Mauai has a chance to play with old friends at UH, including DallasJ Duarte (Kamehameha), Stone Miyao (Waiakea), Tai Atkins (Kamehameha), Michael Hughes (Hawaii Prep) and Kalani Marquez (Kamehameha).
“I’ll have three more years to develop,” said Villaruz-Mauai, a left-handed first baseman.
The Rainbow Warriors return first baseman Alex Baeza and all three outfielders Scotty Scott, Matt Wong, and Tyler Best, and designated hitter Adam Fogel.
But if Villaruz-Mauai mashes balls, he’ll break into the starting lineup for UH.
Ahuna doesn’t face such a crowded situation if he decides to become a Jayhawk. Benjamin Sims, the starting shortstop, is a senior.
When: Wednesday (first 37 picks) and Thursday (remainder of five rounds)
TV: 1 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN and MLB Network; 11 a.m. Thursday, ESPN2 and MLB
Top selection: Detroit Tigers
Big Island bias: A player with Hawaii Island ties has been selected in seven consecutive drafts; Waiakea grad Kalai Rosario has the best chance of making it eight.