A Bradley County native’s hot summer on the diamond has earned him a prestigious award.
With his fourth season of professional baseball nearing an end, Ryan Casteel was honored Friday by the California League as the Catcher of the Year in its 2013 Field Awards and Post Season All-Star Team.
“It’s been a great season. This is wonderful honor and I’m very thankful to be recognized like this,” commented the former Bradley Central and Cleveland State standout. “I feel like I’ve improved my game in many areas this year and hopefully will continue to get better.”
Casteel leads the Modesto Nuts in five offensive categories and one defensive one as the High-A Colorado Rockies farm team is in the midst of trying to earn a post-season berth.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-handed batter tops the team in home runs (22), runs batted in (74), total bases (210), slugging percentage (.536) and OPS (.889). He has also committed just one error in 103 games this season.
He is also second on the squad with 29 doubles, 48 walks and a .353 on base percentage. He has also scored 62 runs, laced 107 hits, including four triples and has a .273 batting average.
Casteel tops California League catchers in doubles, home runs and total bases, plus is second in hits and RBI. His home run total is a new record for catchers in the post-renovation era in Modesto ballpark, dating back to 1997. Modesto A's catcher A.J. Hinch hit 21 during that '97 season. In 170 previous games stretching three seasons in the Rockies' organization, Casteel totaled only six home runs and 80 RBI.
While he is pleased with his personal numbers, Casteel’s concerns at the moment lie with the team.
“We’re in the middle of a playoff push, so that’s what I’m concentrating on right now,” he stated Saturday. “Right now we’re in first place in the second half standings with 11 games to go.”
Six teams — the division winners from the first and second halves of the season, plus two wild-card teams — advance to the California League playoffs, which will begin Sept. 4.
“I’m just hoping to finish strong and help the team win another championship,” commented Casteel in reference to the majority of his teammates and himself being part of the South Atlantic League champion Asheville Tourist squad last season. “It’s been a lot of hard work this season, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to play.”
For the third consecutive year, the Nuts have the Pitcher of the Year, with Dan Winkler following in the footsteps of Chad Bettis (2011) and Christian Bergman (2012).
Despite being promoted to Double-A Tulsa on July 31st, Winkler currently leads the league in nearly every pitching category. The 23-year-old from Effingham, Illinois, racked up 12 victories in 22 starts, while posting the second best ERA at 2.97. In 130 1/3 innings with the Nuts, Winkler allowed only 84 hits for a circuit-leading .184 opponent's batting average. With 10 more strikeouts in two starts with Tulsa, Winkler leads all of minor-league baseball with 164.
Casteel was behind the plate for a combined no-hitter on June 24 in San Jose with Winkler firing the first seven innings of the contest. Winkler carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning in four of his outings this season.
Bradley County’s other pro player, Ryan Fraser has had a strong month after getting off to a slow start due to an off-season injury.
In his last 10 appearances, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander has given up just two earned runs in 12.2 innings of work.
Overall since rejoining the Class AA Binghamton (N.Y.) Mets, the former Walker Valley and University of Memphis hurler has a 1-2 record with a 5.24 ERA in 24 games. He has struck out 22 batters in 34.1 innings on the hill.
With an 81-51 record, Binghamton has clinched its division title and will head into the Eastern League playoffs as the No. 1 seed.