Getting his first opportunity in the big league’s club Cactus League opener Friday, Casteel stepped to the plate as a pitch hitter in the third inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks ace Patrick Corbin and promptly launched a two-run homer over the right field fence for the first Rockies runs of the new year.
The former Bradley Central and Cleveland State standout hit 22 homers for the Modesto [Calif.] Nuts last summer and a league-leading 11 for the Melbourne Aces “Down Under” this winter, but the blast off the bench Friday is his first “Major League” at bat is special.
“It was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had,” Casteel told the Banner Saturday morning. ”Being off of a 14-game winner and all-star [Corbin], it was a good start to camp.
“The main focus for me right now is to soak up a lot of knowledge and get ready for the season,” he added.
Casteel is one of 24 non-roster invitees to the Rockies Spring Training Camp to show their wares.
The Rockies only have one catcher — Willin Rosario, who leads all Major League catchers with 49 home runs the past two seasons — on their 40-man roster, with utility man Jordan Pacheco scheduled to be their back up this season.
Casteel, as well as five other catchers, reported to Rockies camp just over two weeks ago and has been working out and preparing for the 2014 season. Also getting a look by Colorado is 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 in the San Francisco Giants organization).
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 posted his best campaign yet with 30 doubles, four triples, 76 runs batted in, with a .523 slugging percentage and a .352 on base percentage to with his 22 “long balls.”
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 in Melbourne, he was selected as the Player of the Week twice and led 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.
The Rockies and Diamondbacks hold their annual spring training camps at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the first Major League Baseball spring training facility in the nation to be built on Indian land.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick includes an 11,000-seat capacity ballpark, a total of 12 practice fields and office buildings that will include Major and Minor League clubhouses, training facilities and offices for each team.
Friday’s game was the first Cactus League action for the Rockies, while the D-backs are 2-2.