Ryan Fraser and Ryan Casteel are making their third step up in as many years with Fraser playing Advanced A ball for the St. Lucie (Fla.) Mets and Casteel finally getting to the eastern side of the continent as he suits up for the Class A Asheville (N.C.) Tourists.
A third local pro, Cole Brand, is heading to Florida next week for the St. Louis Cardinals’ extended spring training before getting a short-season assignment in June.
Fraser actually didn’t have to pack up and move this week as his New York Mets’ farm team plays in the same facility the organization has spring training in.
Before opening the Florida State League season tonight, the former Walker Valley hurler got a chance to show what he could do with the “big boys” earlier this week.
“I traveled with the major league team to Kissimmee (Fla.) to play the (Atlanta) Braves for the second time this spring and this time I got in game,” Fraser said by phone Wednesday evening. “I didn’t strike out anybody, but I didn’t give up a hit, a run or walk anybody, either.”
Fraser got the first batter to fly out to right field Monday and then got a pair of groundouts to the second baseman.
“The Braves starting lineup included Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and (Martin) Prado, but those guys were all gone by the time I got in,” he related. “I was pitching against AAA guys. We beat them 8-2. Coach (Mike) Turner told me McMinn was down here and went to that game, so they got to see me pitch.”
Playing four years at the University of Memphis, Fraser was taken in the 16th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft and played his first summer with the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Cyclones, posting a dozen saves and a 3-3 record, with a 1.44 earned run average and 1.14 WHIP.
After participating in his first spring training last year, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound right hander played A ball for the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats, leading the staff with 138.1 innings pitched, while posting a 7-9 record and a 3.58 ERA. Fraser had 21 starts in 26 appearances, plus earned a save and struck out 90 batters.
“I’m with basically the same group of guys I’ve been with the last two years. We made it to the league championship series in both Brooklyn and Savannah,” Fraser remarked. “St. Lucie made it to the championship down here last year and we hope to win it all this time.”
Fraser will have some fans in the stands tonight and tomorrow as the Mets open the season in Bradenton, Fla., where he was born.
“I have grandparents and family still there who are planning to come out to the games,” he stated. “We didn’t move to Cleveland until I was 9 years old.”
“Also A.J. Burnett is scheduled to start for the (Bradenton) Marauders Friday night,” Fraser said of the former New York Yankee, who is now with the Pittsburgh Pirates but is recovering from eye surgery and was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.
Although he was a starter last season, the Mets are moving Fraser back to the bullpen, where he was a standout closer in college and his first pro season.
“They had me starting last season to build up my innings,” he explained. “This year I’m going to be working in long relief and maybe some spot starts, to help keep my innings up. My best shot to get to the majors is as a reliever.”
“As a reliever, you have to be ready to go every day,” Fraser added. “It will give me more opportunities to get better. This is shaping up to be a fun year. I’m excited about it.”
After a “great spring,” Casteel is thrilled not only to get another season started, but to be closer to home this time around.
Taken in the 17th round of the 2010 Draft by the Colorado Rockies, the former Bradley Central and Cleveland State standout spent his first summer of pro ball playing in Wyoming for the Casper Ghosts before going to Washington state last year with the Tri-City Dust Devils.
“I enjoyed playing out there, but I am so glad to be just 180 miles from home (Bradley County), plus I’ll be playing in Rome, Ga., next month,” he proclaimed.
Asheville plays in the South Atlantic League, which stretches from Ocean City, N.J., to Savannah, Ga.. The Tourists will be taking on the Rome Braves May 10-13 and 24-27, just 77 miles south of Cleveland.
A strong contingent of the Casteel clan, including Ryan’s December bride Bethany, will be in Asheville this weekend for the Tourists’ season-opening series against the Delmarva Shorebirds. “It’s great to be close enough they can come over and see me play,” he stated.
Casteel will be splitting time behind the plate with Will Swanner, who the Rockies drafted just a few rounds before him in 2010.
“We’ll probably split the games (catching) 4 and 3, plus we’ll both DH (be designated hitters) some as well,” Casteel related. “He’s more of a power hitter (17 HRs at Casper last year), while I hit more for average.”
Casteel had a .354 on base percentage with 20 of his 54 hits going for extra bases, including 17 doubles, a pair of triples and a home run. He drove in 30 runs, walked 24 times and stole eight bases while helping the Dust Devils win the Northwest League’s Eastern Division.
In Asheville, Casteel is reuniting with former Ooltewah standout Tyler Massey. “It’s good to play with him again. There are several guys on the team I’ve played with the last two years.”
“The Tourists play in a very historic stadium, that is set on the side of a mountain,” he related. “It’s only 297 (feet) down the right field line, but there’s a wall that’s 40 to 50 feet tall.”
“I feel very comfortable being at this level. I’ve been working hard this spring and played well, so I’m ready to get this season going,” Casteel remarked.
The 142-game schedule will run through Labor Day for both Casteel and Fraser who are hoping to continue climbing the ladder toward their ultimate goal — to play in the major leagues.