Ryan Casteel isn't where he wants to be, but he's on track to get there.
The former Bradley Central and Cleveland State baseball player is preparing for his fourth professional season and has moved up a rung each year.
"It's not an easy job, but right now I like my chances of getting where I want to be," the former Times Free Press player of the year said recently. "If things go the way I think they will, I'll be in the California League."
That would be at Modesto at the high Class A level.
Casteel began his career in the Colorado Rockies organization at Tri-Cities (Rookie League) in Pasco, Wash., where he hit .305. Two years ago in Casper, Wyo. (high rookie), he hit .273, and then last season he batted .279 in Asheville, N.C. (full season low-A).
"Moving to Modesto would be a promotion. I haven't jumped a level, but I've been promoted each year," added the 21-year-old who recently celebrated his first wedding anniversary. "In this business you never know."
Bradley coach Travis Adams has been pleased with Casteel's growth.
"He takes baseball as a job. He's been so dedicated about working out. When he's home it seems like he's working out here or somewhere close," Adams said. "I had a couple of chances to see him play last year, and he's bigger, stronger and faster. He does everything better than he did here, and he keeps working."
Casteel was in the younger half of players on his 2012 team, which averaged 23 years old, and was invited to the Rockies' instructional league for the third time.
For a catcher that's a big plus, because all of the club's coordinators are there and he is able to get more one-on-one work with experts.
"It's more hands-on with a lot of drills," he said. "There are always things to work on. I think offense is a strength, but out there catching becomes my priority. You want to take that time to try and polish every aspect of your game, but there's a lengthy laundry list of things to work on as far as catching is concerned.
"I don't want to be a high-A player all my life, and in order to move up you have to improve."
Having moved up a class each year has led him to believe he made the right decision by spurning a University of Tennessee scholarship to go to Cleveland State and get a quicker shot at the draft.
"No regrets. I absolutely am blessed and I love what I do," Casteel said. "It isn't an easy job, but I believe the organization believes in me."
If he continues to move up, he'll do so as a catcher.
"That's what I'm going to be. At least I think that's going to be my home," he said. "I've come a long way since high school."
His throws from home to second base were good in high school, but his caught-stealing percentage went up by six points from 2011 to 2012.
"Throwing is where I've moved forward, and that's where improvements were finally noticed," he said. "I finally got close to where I want to be there, and I also was able to cut down on the passed balls."
His current track would have him in the majors by age 25.
"Who knows with major league baseball?" Adams said. "It depends on what the Rockies want and how players are stacked, but he's in a good organization and I don't think he's lost in the shuffle. Sometimes players go and they flake out. Ryan hasn't. Granted, he's in the minors, but he is doing everything he can to push through.
"You have to have things go your way if you're not a first-round guy out of college or high school, but Ryan's a great dude with great character and tremendous work ethic and dedication."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...