Area players work in minors

Area players work in minors

June 24th, 2011 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Professional

There was a baseball reunion Thursday night in Boise, Idaho. Four players who played high school baseball in the Chattanooga area got together following the game between the Boise Hawks and the Tri-City Dust Devils.

Kyler Burke, who played at Ooltewah, played host to Dust Devils Ryan Casteel (Bradley Central), Tyler Massey (Baylor) and Blake McDade (Ooltewah).

The four are playing in the Single A Northwest League, Burke as a representative of the Cubs and Casteel, Massey and McDade as members of the Rockies organization.

Burke has been in Boise before but it was as an outfielder. Nowadays he's a left-handed pitcher who picked up his first win Tuesday, pitching two innings of relief in his first outing as a professional pitcher.

"It was exciting. It's been four or five years since I have thrown in a [real] game," he said. "The games in Arizona [extending spring] were more like practice games; no fans in the stands, no stats kept."

Burke's ERA is at 10.80. He gave up two runs on two hits and three walks with a strikeout in 1 2/3 innings.

"It was good to get out there and start getting comfortable and getting to work on my stuff in an actual game. Although I got the win it wasn't the type outing I wanted. I need to get my delivery ironed out a little. I need to be a little more out front. My arm was dragging a little bit, but it wasn't like I was wild. I was around the plate with all my pitches."

Burke, who is on a starting pitcher's regimen, talked with pitching coach David Rosario after his outing.

"For my first outing, he thought it went pretty well. I threw some good curve balls and change-ups but he said the big thing was that I kept my composure," the former first-round draft pick said.

While Burke now has that first pro pitching outing behind him, Casteel came out of the gate hot. The catcher's bat is matching his arm. Already he has caught four baserunners in attempted steals while hitting a robust .421 (8-for-19) with a team high five RBIs.

"Most of it has been me being really focused," he said after starting five of the team's six games behind the plate. "I'm excited to be here and I have just been locked in. Being [in Pasco, Wash.] is a promotion and I'm really happy right now. We had 3,400 at our opener and I think we've had at least 2,000 fans at the other games."

Casteel and McDade, a first baseman, played last year for the Casper, Wy. Ghosts, a step up from pure rookie league. They join Massey, who split time between last year between Tri-Cities and Asheville, N.C. Massey and Casteel are rooming together with a host family.

"Tyler's been hitting the ball pretty well too. He has a couple of doubles and a couple of RBIs," Casteel said.

Massey, who's playing left field, was 5-for-13 (.385) in the team's first three games but has gone hitless in five at-bats in the team's past two games.

Other local players area working throughout the minor leagues as well:

• Former Ringgold standout Kyle Heckathorn started eight days ago and threw four perfect innings for the Single A Brevard County Manatees before giving way to the bullpen. It hasn't been all roses for Heckathorn, who is listed as the Milwaukee Brewers' No. 3 minor-league prospect. Slightly more than two weeks ago, Heckathorn gave up six runs on four hits while recording only one out. It was the first time he had failed to get through an inning.

• Cole Brand, a former Casteel teammate at Bradley, is pitching for the Cardinals in the Gulf Coast League and has one outing in three games. He pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowing two hits, a walk and three earned runs.

• Ryan Fraser, a pitcher from Walker Valley, is 4-5 with a 3.38 ERA in 10 starts for the New York Mets' Single A Savannah, Ga. Sand Gnats. In 72 innings, Fraser has struck out 41. He also has worked in relieve and has one save.

• Former Calhoun standout Charlie Culberson is playing second base for the Double A Richmond, Va. Flying Squirrels and was hitting .250 (70-280) with 14 doubles, four home runs and two triples with 23 RBIs. He is a teammate of former Baylor standout Wes Hodges, who signed with the Giants a couple of weeks ago after gaining his release from the Cleveland Indians' Triple A team in Columbus, Ohio.

• Josh Smoker, another Calhoun standout, has a 2-1 record with a 2.19 ERA. The left-hander has thrown 24 2/3 innings in 22 appearances for the Potomac, Va. Nationals in the Double A Eastern League.

• Chattooga outfielder Rashad Ramsey is with the Athletics' Arizona League affiliate but has no stats through the team's first three games.

• Marcus Jones, an outfielder from Southeast Whitfield, spent last year with the Baltimore Orioles' Gulf Coast League team but MILB.com reports that he has been released. Jones was an 11th-round pick in the 2010 draft.

• Rhea County's Cory Gearrin is pitching relief for Atlanta and the Triple A Gwinnett Braves and Dalton's Mitchell Boggs has bounced between the bullpens in St. Louis and Memphis, the Cardinals' Triple A affiliate.