Local pro baseball players' ranks swell to 5

By JOE CANNON
Posted 6/9/18

While two more locals joined the ranks of professional baseball this week, a pair of veterans are off to contrasting starts, while another is anxious to get going.Former Cleveland High teammates Jake …

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Local pro baseball players' ranks swell to 5

Posted

While two more locals joined the ranks of professional baseball this week, a pair of veterans are off to contrasting starts, while another is anxious to get going.

Former Cleveland High teammates Jake Wyrick and Hunter Oliver were taken by the Cincinnati Reds in the Major League Draft this past week and are in Arizona being evaluated, waiting for their first Minor League assignments.

Meanwhile both Ryan Casteel and Logan Longwith, who have been playing for pay several years now are both on Lancaster ball teams. However, Casteel is in Pennsylvania while Longwith is in California.

Longwith’s former Walker Valley teammate Chris Caffrey is also in the Golden State ready to begin his new diamond adventure.

In his eighth professional season, Casteel is continuing his dream by playing in “one of the top independent leagues in the nation.”

“I mean we are playing against a ton of former big leaguers,” the former Bradley Central and Cleveland State standout related. “Crazy, we faced ‘K-Rod’ (Francisco Rodriguez) two nights ago. Dude is top 5 in all time saves in MLB.

(Former Atlanta Braves’ starter) Jair Jurrjens and the catcher (Derek) Norris (who played 53 games for Tampa Bay last year) was MLB All-Star three years ago (when with the Oakland A’s).

“This league is full of guys like that. The talent is like Double-A and Triple-A, so every night you gotta be at your best. Just trying to do what I do,” he added.

Casteel currently has the eighth-best batting average in the Atlantic League, hitting .325 with seven doubles and a half dozen homers in his 37 hits in 34 games. He has driven in 25 runs and scored 15 times himself.

He is currently riding an eight-game hitting streak and has a .352 on base percentage, a .544 slugging percentage and a .896 OPS for the Barnstormers, who lead the league with a 27-11 record.

After being taken in the 17th round of the 2010 draft, Casteel spent 6½ years in the Colorado Rockies farm system before signing with the Seattle Mariners organization midway through the 2016 season.

He played 100 games for the Mariners’ Double-A team in Tulsa, Okla., last year.

Playing for 10 Minor League teams, including parts of two seasons at Triple-A Albuquerque, the catcher/first baseman posted a .274 BA and a .332 OBP.

He has 64 career home runs and 343 runs batted in, with 154 doubles and 14 triples in 646 hits, plus he has scored 313 runs in 626 games.

He was the Catcher of the Year in the California League in 2013 and an All-Star in Tulsa in 2014.

He also had very successful stints in the Australian Baseball League, winning the MVP award one winter, plus leading his team to the prestigious Arizona Fall League championship another year.

Playing High-A ball on the West Coast, Longwith has had some early struggles.

“It’s been an up and down season for me,” proclaimed the former Tennessee Wesleyan standout closer.

“I had a really good spring training and broke with the High-A squad. My outings have been up and down.”

The lanky right-handed hurler has been in nine games and has a 1-4 record with an .818 earned run average for the Rockies’ farm team.

He’s struck out 25, but walked 25 in 44 innings pitched.

“(I’m) just trying to string together good ones and be more consistent,” he stated.

“The California league is definitely a hitter’s league, so pitchers have to be able to command and execute pitches down in the zone.”

Longwith is currently on the seven-day disabled list after “spraining my ankle after jumping to catch a ball and rolled it landing.

“I know that God is in control of everything so it’s making me a stronger person because of it,” he assessed.

A 20th-round draft pick by Detroit back in 2015, Longwith has played for seven teams in the Tiger and Colorado farm systems, plus had a short stint in the same independent league Casteel is currently in.

Longwith has appeared in 64 Minor League games, including 20 starts, and has posted an 8-11 record with a 5.38 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Having converted five of six save opportunities, he has 132 Ks and just 65 free passes in 187 innings on the bump.

After completing a strong four-year path at Southeast Missouri State, Caffrey is embarking on his first season of professional ball in the United States.

Joining the Napa Silverados of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball, a six-team league in northern California, he is currently waiting to clear waivers before being able to get on the field.

“It’s been a very good experience so far getting to know my teammates and coaches,” Caffrey stated.

“My host family has absolutely been incredible and has made me feel right at home. I am very grateful to God for giving me the opportunity and the ability to play at this level.”

After graduating from SEMO last spring, the third baseman went north of the border to play in the Western Major Baseball League in Canada.

Joining former Walker Valley teammate Caleb Longley on the Medicine Hat Mavericks in Alberta, Caffrey hit  .312 with seven doubles and four homers in 49 hits, plus drove in 35 runs and scored 29 times in 38 games.

He had one game where he blasted three home runs and drove in eight scores.

He hit .303 in eight playoff games with a pair of doubles and a triple in his 10 hits. He scored a half dozen times and plated four teammates.

Caffrey, Longwith and Longley were key members of the only Walker Valley squad to qualify for the TSSAA State Tournament. The Mustangs had a Top 4 finish their senior year in 2012.

Longley recently completed his college career at East Tennessee State University.

Starting in 51 games for the Bucs this spring, he was third on the team with a .309 BA, with 20 doubles, a triple and 14 homers in his 59 hits. Driving in 50 runs and scoring 43, Longley had a .399 OBP and a .644 slugging percentage.

In 2017, he played in 53 games with 48 starts, finishing the season with eight home runs and 43 RBIs. He batted .269 on the year with 47 hits, 21 of which were multi-base hits

His first year in Johnson City, he appeared in 32 games including 22 starts, posting a .320 on-base percentage and .402 slugging percentage.

Prior to ETSU, Longley hit 14 homers and batted .346 for Cleveland State.

Last summer in Canada, he at one time led the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs.

With his season shortened by an injury, Longley hit .361 with eight doubles and five homers in his 39 hits, plus has scored 30 runs in only 29 games.

He drove in 28 runs and was 9-for-10 in stolen bases attempts.

Expecting to be drafted last week, Longley is currently weighing his future baseball options.

“I thought I was going to be taken. Several teams had talked to me, especially the Texas Rangers, but it didn’t work out,” Longley said Saturday in a phone interview.

“It’s disappointing, but there are still some possibilities that may work out. Best case scenario is being able to sign as a free agent after the teams see who they can and can’t sign.

“I also have some possibilities of going to play overseas in Australia, Asia or Europe. I’m not giving up. I’m still going to continue to play somewhere,” he added.

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