After a strong start, Colorado Rockies farmhand Ryan Casteel hit a brief slide but has bounced back strong for the Class AA Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers.
Recovering from an injury, Ryan Fraser had to spend a little more time in Florida than he wanted but has now returned to the AA level as well, with the New York Mets sending him back to Binghamton, N.Y., where he has played parts of the last two seasons.
Returning to the team currently second in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division just after Memorial Day, Fraser has come out of the bullpen to finish up four games and has allowed just one hit and no runs in 5.1 innings pitched.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound former Walker Valley and University of Memphis standout has struck out four batters and walked just one while posting a 0.38 WHIP, while opposing batters are hitting just .059 against him.
“I’ve been feeling good physically and mentally,” stated Fraser in a text Saturday afternoon. “Now that I’m back in AA yet again, I’m hungry to improve my craft and move up a level or possibly two. The key is to take it one day at a time and win the day.”
For the second straight campaign, Fraser’s diamond season started with him having to rehab an injury. Last year he had to bounce back from off-season knee surgery, and this time around he tweaked a “lat” while playing winter league ball in Puerto Rico.
After not getting released to throw again until Feb. 1, Fraser was only able to get in four spring training games, so the Mets kept him in the Sunshine State when the season began.
“I’ve been pitching pretty well. Still trying to get better on a daily basis,” he added. “I was in Florida patiently waiting for on a spot to open back up in AA. It was a daily grind just because I felt like I should’ve broke camp on time and belonged up here. Something finally opened up, and I’m back with most of the guys I’ve come through the system with.”
Getting in some extra work in extended spring training, Fraser then played High-A ball for Port St. Lucie. He made seven appearances in Florida State League games, posting a 1-1 record with a save. In 12.2 innings pitched he struck out nine, walked five and had a 3.55 earned run average.
After getting invited to his first Major League Spring Training in February and blasting a two-run homer off Arizona Diamondbacks ace Patrick Corbin in his first at in the Rockies Cactus League opener, Casteel continued his yearly progression up the Minor League ladder with an assignment to Class AA Tulsa.
Getting a half dozen hits in four of his first five games, including a pair of homers, the former Bradley Central and Cleveland State star cooled off a tad, but has bounced back, hitting .308 with a trio of doubles, two home runs and has driven in four runs in his last 10 games. He has had a .386 on base percentage, .538 slugging percentage anda .925 OPS during the recent stretch.
“I’m swinging it (the bat) well. Just trying to stay consistent every night,” Casteel stated by text Saturday. “I did have a tough April, but that’s part of the game. Each year I’ve had one bad month, and it so happened to be the first month (of the season). i just had to work through it and make some adjustments.”
“Tulsa is awesome man. Big city. Great stadium. (Class) AA is tough. You’re one call away from the big leagues, so everyone is sharp every night,” he added.
One of Casteel’s teammates, Eddie Butler, got called up to “The Show” Friday and started that night for the Rockies in Denver against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Eddie is a great pitcher and will have a lot of success,” Casteel commented.
Along with his catching duties, Casteel is also playing some first base this season, as well as being the designated hitter some so far this season.
“I enjoy playing first and staying at catcher some too helps with versatility,” he said. “I’m getting to play everyday, so I don’t care (where) as long as I’m in there.”
In 46 games so far, Casteel is hitting .266 with 47 hits, 25 runs scored, 74 total bases and a dozen walks. He is tied for the Drillers’ lead with six home runs, and third on the team with nine doubles and 23 runs batted in. He is in the Top 25 in the league in seven offensive categories, including tied for eighth in homers.
Tulsa is atop the Texas League’s Northern Division standings with a 33-26 record. The Drillers have an four-game lead over the Arkansas Travelers with just 10 games left in the first half of the season. The first half winners qualify for the league playoffs in September.
Still with their original organizations, both Fraser and Casteel are playing in their fifth professional seasons having been taken in the 16th and 17th rounds respectively in the 2010 First-Year Players Major League Draft.