It took a while, a little longer than he wanted, but Kalai Rosario was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the fifth and final round of the Major League Baseball draft on Thursday, making eight straight years a player with Hilo ties has been selected.
The Twins drafted the recent Waiakea graduate with the 158th overall selection, two spots before the last pick in the draft, giving Rosario a chance to exhale.
“It was a pretty crazy day waiting until the (third)-to-last pick,” he said. “It’s a dream come true, and I couldn’t be happier to share this moment with my family. It’s amazing.”
The spot has a $330,100 approximate signing bonus, and Rosario said he most likely intends to sign and bypass a scholarship to Cal Baptist. He’ll still talk to his parents (Darren and Sandy Rosario) before he makes it official.
“That’s my goal, and I want to get started right away,” he said. “They want me to sign, but I’ll talk with them first.”
It hasn’t been made official but the minor league baseball season more likely than not will be canceled. The Twins told him to enjoy the moment, and they’d talk more in detail later.
It’s likely that he’ll head to an empty spring training camp for an instructional lesson with other draft picks.
Last year, Edgar Barclay, a St. Joseph graduate and left-handed pitcher who never played BIIF baseball, was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 15th round.
Of the nine players drafted, all are still in pro ball except for Jordan Kurokawa, a UH-Hilo right-hander who was picked by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 28th round in 2016. He was released after one season.
Also on Thursday, UH-Manoa junior left-hander Jeremy Wu-Yelland was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round. The 118th overall pick has an approximate signing bonus of $487,900.
Despite the draft being cut from 40 to five rounds, MLB farm systems are far from cupboard bare. There are still ways for player acquisitions, such as the international signing period, which opens July 2.
With the Twins, Rosario joins a midsized-market team on the rise. Minnesota won the AL Central last season and was 17th in MLB payroll.
The Twins only occasionally sign big-ticket free agents. Josh Donaldson, a free agent from the Atlanta Braves, signed a four-year, $92 million contract prior to the 2020 season.
Minnesota has the seventh best farm system, according to mlb.com, with nine outfielders on its top 30 prospects list.
Rosario heads to an organization that promotes from within and pushes its prospects. Outfielder Trevor Larnach, a first-round pick out of Oregon State in 2018, played 43 games at Double A ball last year.
Hilo’s other two MLB prospects, Waiakea first baseman Safea Villaruz-Mauai and Hilo shortstop Maui Ahuna, were not drafted and will head to Hawaii and Kansas, respectively. They are eligible to be drafted in three years after their junior seasons in 2023.
Rosario, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound outfielder, was named the Hawaii Gatorade player of the year. He batted .420 with five home runs and 31 RBIs in 2019. He was hitting .343 with five home runs and 11 RBIs prior to the BIIF and HHSAA seasons shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Like those before him, Rosario started playing ball, got better and eventually attracted the interest of MLB scouts.
“My whole life, I’ve been playing the game and having fun,” he said. “In high school, a few scouts talked to me, and I put that mindset into my head: let’s put in the work.
“I’ve never stopped getting better and I’ve never stopped having fun.”
Hilo an MLB draft hot spot
A player with Hilo ties has been selected in eight consecutive MLB drafts.
Year Player School Round Team
2013 Kean Wong Waiakea 4th Rays
2014 Kodi Medeiros Waiakea 1st Brewers
2014 Jodd Carter Hilo 24th Indians
2015 Q.Torres-Costa UH (Wai.) 35th Brewers
2016 Jordan Kurokawa UHH 28th Phillies
2017 Joey Jarneski Hilo 12th Rangers
2018 Micah Bello Hilo 2nd Brewers
2019 Edgar Barclay CSUB (St. Joe) 15th Yankees
2020 Kalai Rosario Waiakea 5th Twins