Ryan Fraser and Ryan Casteel are already at their respective spring training camps, while Cole Brand will be heading to extended spring training in a couple of weeks.
Fraser, who played at Walker Valley High School before spending four years at the University of Memphis, got to suit up with the Major League New York Mets for a split-squad game last week.
“I got to travel to Kissimmee (Fla.) with the Major League players and dress out for a game against the (Houston) Astros,” related Fraser, who is at the Mets’ facilities in Port St. Lucie, Fla., “I didn’t get in the game, but it was a neat experience.”
Although he and Casteel are at Minor League spring training, they share facilities with their Major League clubs.
“I see guys like (Todd) Helton and (Jason) Giambi everyday,” commented Casteel, who is in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the Colorado Rockies facilities. “We eat and train at the same place, but when is comes time for batting practice or fielding drills, they go one way and we (the Minor Leaguers) go to another field.”
“When I was a senior (at Walker Valley), we came down here to play during spring break and we caught a (Atlanta) Braves game at the same stadium I’m at now,” Fraser related. “I never thought back then I’d be here now.”
Fraser has been impressive in his two seasons so far, helping the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats to the South Atlantic League championship series last fall.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander pitched the most innings on the Sand Gnat staff at 138.1, while posting a 7-9 record and a 3.58 earned run average. Fraser had 21 starts in 26 appearances, plus earned a save, struck out 90 batters, issued 63 walks and hit a dozen.
“That’s the most innings I’ve pitched in a season, so I needed some time off this winter,” he said. “I came home and spent time with family. I worked out locally and have put on some weight so that I’m up to around 220 now, which better fits my frame. My arm feels great and I feel stronger than ever.”
Although he doesn’t know where he’ll be playing yet this season, Fraser said going into Spring Training this year was different than last. “Last year I didn’t know what to expect and was in awe of everything. This year I know what’s going on and am more relaxed.”
A closer while in college, the Mets organization used Fraser primarily as a starter last season. “My ticket to the big leagues is probably as a reliever, but they want to keep my innings up, so for now I’ll probably continue to start.”
“I’ve got three good pitches that I can throw for strikes, with my change-up improving now that I’m more confident in throwing it the way it should be thrown,” he added. “I had too many walks last year, so I need to get those down.”
Fraser expects to either return to Savannah for the upcoming season or play for the Mets high A team there in Port St. Lucie. “We have a good group of guys that came in together, so we’re expecting they’ll keep most of us together.”
Likewise Casteel’s future home is still up in the air, but after spending his first two seasons on the other side of the continent (Wyoming and Washington), he is hoping to get to play in Asheville, N.C., for the Rockies Class A team there.
“That would be nice, not to be too far from home,” expressed the newlywed after marrying his high school sweetheart, Bethany Underwood, in December. “She’s still in school (Lee University), so she’s there. It’s tough being away from her and my family, but its a sacrifice we have to do if I’m to reach my goal.”
If he’s not sent to Asheville, the Rockies’ high Class A team is in California. “I won’t know until three days before we break camp (at the end of the month),” he related.
Like Fraser, Casteel spent the winter in Cleveland. “I worked out at Bradley’s indoor facility with Josh Muncey, who has been my friend since the eighth grade,” the former Bear and Cleveland State standout remarked.
Last season while playing for the Tri-City Dust Devils in south central Washington state, Casteel had a .354 on base percentage with 20 of his 54 hits going for extra bases. In 56 games, the catcher rapped 17 doubles, a pair of triples and a home run.
Casteel also drove in 30 runs, walked 24 times and stole eight bases while helping his team win the Northwest League’s Eastern Division.
Casteel and Fraser will be playing in 14 Minor League spring training games beginning this week as they are evaluated by their clubs to determine where they will be sent.
Brand will be leaving for Jupiter, Fla., April 3 to participate in the St. Louis Cardinals extended spring training for the second straight year.
“I progressed a lot last year. Things are starting to come together,” Brand stated in a phone interview Saturday morning. “I’m more effective in the strike zone and I understand what the hitters are trying to do better.”
Playing two seasons with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals in the Class A short-season, the former Bradley fireballer feels confident going into a new season. “I have a lot of room for improvement. I’m working on my mechanics and my off-speed stuff, but I feel like its going to be a good year.”
Brand spent the winter at home as well and worked with Olympic trainer Clint Spencer at Lee University and former pro pitcher Jamie Tricoglou in Soddy-Daisy.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander made 21 relief appearances last season, pitching 28.1 innings and earning a pair of “holds” and a save. He gave up 23 hits and a dozen earned runs for a 3.81 ERA, but with 23 strikeouts and just three walks, he had a 0.92 WHIP.
After a couple of months of training, Brand expects to either go to Johnson City or Batavia, N.Y., for the short-season. “We’ll train in Florida until the draft, then we’ll report to our summer teams along with the guys who get drafted this year,” he explained.