PuRP No. 22: Ryan Casteel (294 points, 31 ballots) | Winter 2014 Ranking: 16 | High Ballot 8, Mode Ballot 20
Casteel has, over the last few years, been the under-the-radar prospect who just hasn't stopped hitting and yet hasn't made his way into the mainstream prospect hound consciousness. The 24-year-old catcher has been young for his level at every stop and has put up a power-heavy batting line (he's called "Hammer" by teammates) of over 100 wRC+ at every stop, including this year at Triple-A Albuquerque.
For the Isotopes, Casteel has mashed to the tune of a .354/.363/.505 line (130 wRC+) against pitchers on average almost three years older than him, albeit in only 103 plate appearances due to a late-May injury to his quadriceps that has limited him to 26 games this season. For Casteel, who was sharing the catching duties with Dustin Garneau, it marks his second straight year with an injury keeping him out of play for a while, after suffering a fractured cheekbone while running the bases last year.
Casteel's return to behind the plate was heartening to see early on the year. The slugger had moved away from catching duties almost exclusively last season after the face injury. In fact, the lack of belief that Casteel will ultimately stick behind the plate at the big league level is a big factor of why he wasn't protected (and then wasn't selected) for the Rule 5 draft last year. Thus far in his professional career, Casteel has thrown out just 26 percent of baserunners but had done a reasonable job of pitch blocking.
Jon Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked Casteel 17th among Rockies prospects this past offseason, having this to say about the catcher:
Hit .280/.341/.445 with 16 homers, 39 walks, 94 strikeouts in 436 at-bats in Double-A, splitting season between catcher (covering for injured Tom Murphy) and first base. Not a great defender but versatility is useful, solid power.
Here's the challenge with a player like Casteel, who has done nothing but hit well in his professional career: he doesn't seem too high on the organization's priority list, as evidence by the Rockies' decision not to add him to the 40-man roster during the offseason. Tom Murphy (later on in this list), though a rung below Casteel on the minor league ladder, is clearly the "catcher of the future" for Colorado from what scouts have indicated. As a result, it's difficult to put a finger on Casteel's ultimate big league fit.
While he's still got time, that question is what led me to drop Casteel to 23rd on my personal ballot this year after placing him in the mid-teens previously. Casteel will be eligible again for the Rule 5 Draft this year and will become a minor league free agent if the Rockies don't place him on the 40-man roster after the 2016 season. If Casteel returns to health and continues to mash at Albuquerque this season, he could force the issue for Colorado and see some time as part of the great first base platoon experiment -- or he could show another team enough to get them to pick him in the Rule 5 Draft.
Contract Status: 2010 17th round; Rule 5 eligible; three options remaining
MLB ETA: 2016