The players are lining up for their team photo as the photographer shepherds them into place. He's asking for the men to form three rows, with the shortest guys in front.
"Castellani! You're in the back!" one of the coaches yells out, as the long-legged pitcher steps over a chair to get to the third row.
Standing at over 6-feet-3 inches, Ryan Castellani towers above most of his teammates--a trait he uses to create a different pitching plane than most hitters are used to.
Drafted in the second round by the Rockies last season, the right-handed pitcher turned 19 on April 1, making him one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. The Rockies enticed him out of attending Arizona State with a $1.1 million signing bonus, sending him to Tri-City to begin his pro career, where he was nearly three and a half years younger than the average player in the Northwest League.
Known as a strike thrower with a low 90s fastball, the Arizona native is still developing his curveball, slider and change-up. Ryan produced a 3.65 ERA in 10 starts for Tri-City last season, striking out 25 batters and walking just nine in 37 innings. Ryan received a B- grade from Minor League Ball's John Sickels, who stated that "Castellani didn't get as much attention as he deserves."
While watching him warm up, I tried to imagine what it was like to stand in against the right-hander, and it made me a little uncomfortable. He's lanky, but his delivery comes from a three-quarter slot, delivering the ball further from the third base side of the mound than usual. The ball sneaks out with a flick of his wrist and breaks back in towards right-handed batters. The challenge will be if he can maintain a similar motion and affectiveness when throwing his off-speed pitches.
I spoke with Ryan during Asheville's media day before their season opener, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Charlie Drysdale: This was your first spring training, how do you feel coming out of it?
Ryan Castellani: Really good, it went really smoothly. Living in Phoenix, I was at the complex since September and got to know a lot of the guys, and a lot of the guys that worked there as well. Nothing really changed, just the baseball aspect of it. It was good to meet everybody and the players from the other affiliates.
CD: A year ago, you were in high school, and now you're in your second year as a pro. How has the transition been going?
RC: It's been good, I've had a lot of help, from the older guys, pitching coaches taking me under their wing and helping me with the ins-and-outs. Just adjusting to the life and the different style of baseball. I haven't had any trouble with it, so it's been a lot of fun.
CD: You had a great season in Tri-City last year and kind of flew under the radar where you ended up with your draft position, even though it was the second round you surprised a lot of people. Were you surprised with your results?
RC: Not at all, I went out there with a plan. It took a little bit to start pitching at first, finally started pitching in July, but once I was out there I knew what I wanted to do and knew what I had to do. I kept getting better and better working with Frank Gonzalez the pitching coach there.
Then with the other pitchers who had been pitching all season, learning the different teams who they had already pitched against, and learning the hitters. But I had a plan. I worked hard, and it was a lot of fun.
CD: What did you work on in the off-season?
RC: The focus was just on getting bigger. Making sure my body was in shape and would last a full season. It's a lot different than two months in Tri-City--making sure my body is in shape so it doesn't fall apart in July and just focusing on the arm maintenance. The little things, like not lifting big weights but making sure all the strength is there in your shoulder.
CD: Do you have an innings limit?
RC: Yeah, I have 130 innings. For the first half of the season I won't pitch more than 4 innings. The plan is to not have to shut down in August.
CD: One of the concerns scouts had about you coming out of high school was your off-speed pitches and the development of your secondary pitches. How would you address those concerns and how do you feel coming into this year?
RC: I feel great about them. I tweaked a couple of grips in July at instructs and that's all I've been working on. I feel great, I feel confident in all my pitches, throwing them for strikes and as strikeout pitches. I'm excited to show people what they are.
CD: Do you think it will be different than it was last year with high school, then a little bit of a break, and then a pro season? This year you'll be playing straight through.
RC: I think it's going to be fun. There's a smaller roster [ in Asheville] with only 25 men. It's a small team, and everybody gets to be close. I think it's going to be great, and I think it's going to be successful. This team's been successful for the past three years, and we're just looking to build off of their successes.