Posting his best minor league numbers last summer and continuing his torrid pace in the Australian Baseball League this winter, Ryan Casteel’s diamond performance has not gone unnoticed.
Getting ready for his fifth season of professional baseball, the Colorado Rockies have invited the former Bradley Central and Cleveland State standout to his first Major League Baseball Spring Training.
One of 24 non-roster invitees for the big league camp, Casteel will report to the team’s Scottsdale, Ariz., facility, along with pitchers and catchers, on Saturday.
“I’m excited. To be invited to the major league camp is a big step,” declared Casteel, who just returned from “Down Under” a week and a half ago. “I’m in the best shape of my life and am feeling great. I’ll be there (Arizona) for a month and a half, then we’ll see where I start the season.”
One of a half dozen non-roster catchers who will join with current Rockies signal caller Willin Rosario and utility man Jordan Pacheco, Casteel played at Advanced-A Modesto, Calif., last summer, before his winter ball season in Australia.
The Rockies have also invited catchers Michael McKendry (187 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates the last three seasons), Mack McBride (31 games with the Rockies in 2012, plus Class AAA Colorado Springs the last two seasons), Dustin Garneau (Class AA Tulsa last season), Tom Murphy (Class A Asheville, N.C.) and Jackson Williams (Class AAA Fresno for the San Francisco Giants organization).
With the Rockies holding both their major and minor league camps at the same facility, Casteel will be in familiar surroundings.
“The way the facility is set up, it’s all connected. We (both major and minor leaguers) all use the same gym and cafeteria, but then we go to separate fields for workouts,” he explained. “The players see a lot of each other.” Minor league camp doesn’t start until Feb. 28.
Casteel has progressed systematically through the Rockies farm system since being taken in the 17th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft — Casper, Wyo. (Rookie), Tri-Cities, Wash. (Short-Season A), Asheville, N.C. (Class A) and Modesto (Advanced A).
Playing for the Nuts last summer, Casteel was named the California League Catcher of the Year while posting his best campaign yet with 22 home runs, 30 doubles, four triples, 76 runs batted in, with a .523 slugging percentage and a .352 on base percentage.
In 278 minor league games, the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder has 1,037 at bats with a career .279 batting average, 79 doubles, 28 home runs, nine triples and 156 RBIs.
In 45 games this winter playing for the Melbourne Aces, Casteel was an All-Star, leading the Australian League in home runs (11), batting average (.343), slugging percentage (.614) and OPS (1.020). He was also second in total bases (102), RBIs (36) and hits (tied with 57), plus third in on base percentage (.405).
Casteel also was among the top 15 in the league in doubles (10), runs scored (23) and walks (17). He struck out just 20 times in more than 180 trips to the plate.
“Playing there (Australia) was a good opportunity for me to work on what I needed to work on to improve my game,” Casteel stated. “There is a wide spectrum of talent in the Australian League. There are guys with major league and minor league, AA and higher, experience, as well as younger guys trying to make a name for themselves.”
“It’s was a big adjustment, being that far away from home, but it is a beautiful country. My wife and I loved it,” he related. “With flying to the games, we got to see a lot of the country, and it was awesome.
“It only got hot there toward the end, the rest of the time it was around 60 degrees, so it was too cold to go to the beach,” he said. Temperatures in Melbourne got as high as 110 degrees during January, causing delays during the Australian Open tennis tournament. “That was tough playing that weekend in the heat, but the rest of the time it was pretty good.”
Casteel was named as the Round 13 Delta Air Lines Players of the Week after going 9-for-15 from the plate (.600) with a home run, two doubles, six RBIs, two runs scored and 14 total bases in the final weekend series of the season, as he solidified himself as a legitimate MVP candidate as well as a finalist for the 2013-14 ABL Fan Choice Award presented by Fielders Choice.
Also the league’s Player of the Week in Round 8 (Dec. 20-22), Casteel went 7-for-13 with a trio of home runs, a double, four runs scored and a half dozen RBIs in that week’s three-game series.
“Getting invited to the major league camp is a big deal for me,” stated the 22-year-old Casteel. “This is a great opportunity. I take a lot of pride in getting this chance.”