Showcase : : Story
Sunday, June 18, 2017

Casas can't lose at PG National

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The stages seem to have never been small for Floridian Triston Casas, a powerfully built slugger and corner-infielder who in January reclassified to the class of 2018, simply because he was eager to get his post-high school baseball career going a year early.

In June of 2015 and 2016 he put his considerable talents on display at the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase at jetBlue Park and the last two autumns he’s played “up” as a member of USA Baseball National Teams. He plays high school baseball at prestigious American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla., and his summer ball with the Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based Elite Squad Baseball organization.

Most importantly, not only has Casas been put on those big stages but his abilities have allowed him to standout once he got there. He was, for instance, included on the Top Prospect List at both PG Jr. National’s he attended.

So, it came as no surprise to anyone when the 6-foot-4, 240-pound, 17-year-old Casas – a University of Miami commit – was invited to this year’s PG National Showcase, which on Sunday was into the third day of its six-day run at jetBlue Park. Where else would he be?

“Obviously, here at the National that the top (280) kids in the country come to, this is where you really expect to perform at your top level and where you can show how you compare to everyone else,” Casas said. “It was definitely something I marked on my calendar with an exclamation (point), and it’s something I wanted to be prepared for. I’ll try to be at the top of my game to stay competitive with all these great players out here.”

Even after the reclassification, Casas – who calls Pembroke Pines home – remained in the top-10 of PG’s national prospect rankings, and came into the PG National sitting at No. 7 as a newly minted 2018. With the resume’ he’s already built there is no question he belongs among the elite talent assembled here, but there is even more to the story than that.

It is extremely appropriate that Casas was scheduled to perform at the PG National over the Father’s Day weekend, with the man who has become the rock of his life – ever since his mother passed away eight years ago when the youngster was 9 years old – right alongside.

Jose Casas, who works in land development in the Miami area and played baseball and football at Florida International University, has been there for his son every step of the way. This is Triston’s 28th PG event in addition to his play with his high school team and USA Baseball, and Jose was again with him and offering encouragement this weekend.

“We’ve been doing this for quite some time now, getting him prepared mentally and emotionally for him to be able to come out here and perform without all the jitters,” Jose told PG. “You face all these scouts and you can be a deer in the headlights … but he’s been through this several times and it’s worked to his benefit.”

The whole Father’s Day thing might have been coincidental, but that doesn’t make it any less special for this father-son pair (Triston also has a younger brother). Baseball has been uniting dads and sons for more than 150 years, whether its attending a big-league game, attending a big-time showcase or playing whiffle-ball in the backyard.

“I wouldn’t want to spend it any other way,” Jose said. “For my sons, facilitating them and helping them with whatever they wanted to be their best at, that’s my biggest pleasure. Being able to do that as a dad, it makes me happy; it gives me a little bit of happiness and a little sense of accomplishment.”

With his mom passing on when Casas was still very much a youngster, it would have been easy for him to be led astray. But by Triston’s own account, his father wouldn’t allow that to happen.

“My dad is the one that made me into the person that I am today, with the passing of my mom,” he said. “My dad … has created my character and I owe the world to him. He’s definitely been my role model, he’s pushed me to be the best person I can always be on and off the field, to play the game the right way and to share respect and kindness with others.”

American Heritage School is a private, independent, nonsectarian, co-educational college prep school in Plantation, Fla., with highly regarded academic and baseball programs. The Patriots won Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) state championships in 2008 (Class 3A) and 2012 (5A) – the latter under current coach Bruce Aven – and were state runners-up in 1999 (2A) and 2009 (3A).

Casas has attended the school since his freshman year, and is unrestrained with is praise it, everything from the brick building itself to the campus to the demanding academics and to the school staff.

“Baseball is the easy part,” he said. “I go out there and practice, I work hard, I try to be a leader on the field, I try to help my team win and I think my numbers speak for themselves. At the end of the day, I know if I’m a good teammate the baseball gods will take care of me, so I just try to do my part.”

The Patriots finished 19-8 this spring after a loss in the regional quarterfinal-round of the FHSAA Class 6A playoffs. According to the team’s statistics as they appear on MaxPreps.com, Casas slashed .446/.559/.702 with five doubles, a triple, four home runs, 18 RBI and 22 runs scored.

It’s noteworthy that two other prominent juniors on this spring’s American Heritage team – infielder Cory Acton (No. 95-ranked, Florida commit) and left-hander Bailey Mantilla (No. 252, Miami) are also at the PG National.

His relationship with Elite Squad Baseball and people like Richie Palmer and Alan Kunkel has also been a bright spot. Since he joined the Elite Squad he has been named to nine PG all-tournament teams – he was the Most Valuable Player at the 2015 15u PG Florida State Championship – and has been part of three PG WWBA tournament championship teams.

“With the Elite Squad … we’ve had great players come through the (program) every year,” Casas said. “All the kids on the my (current Elite Squad) team understand that we do it for all the past guys that have played there, and we try to keep our name up there with all of the top teams in the country. …

“Me and the other kids on the team just try to live up to the (Elite Squad) name and we just try to maintain that good reputation of Elite Squad baseball with how we play hard and compete; play the game the right way.”

Casas was part of the USA Baseball National Team as 15-year-old in 2015 and as a 16-year old in 2016, and has won a pair of gold medals. He was the youngest member of the 2016 18u National Team, and hit a pair of home runs batting in the cleanup spot in Team USA’s 6-1 championship game victory over Cuba; he initially wasn’t even selected to take part in the U.S. Team trials.

“He’s got two gold medals to show for (his efforts) and those are sitting on my mantle back home, and that’s a pretty big deal,” Jose said, smiling widely. “He’s going to be graduating this year and he loves this game; this is what he does. … He’s a slugger and he’s just a baseball player, and I guess (people) are going to see that.”

It was early this year when Casas and his father made the decision that he should reclassify and he hasn’t missed a beat. It was that reclassification that made him eligible to receive an invitation to the 2017 PG National Showcase and potentially an invite to August’s PG All-American Classic.

“As his dad, I’ve tried to put him with the people he needs to be with to learn things right,” Jose said. “Because what happens in this game is, if you learn things wrong you spend part of your life un-learning what you were supposed to learn right. So, I tried to eliminate that from the beginning.”

His two experiences at the PG Jr. National left him feeling prepared for the PG National. He’s familiar with the showcase baseball routine and environment, he’s familiar with jetBlue Park and its field that is configured to match Fenway’s Park, including its own Green Monster (jetBlue Park is the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox and has earned the nickname of “Fenway South”).

With so many travel ball and showcase experiences already behind him, Casas has also learned how to interact with each of the other top prospects who are attempting to climb the same ladder – high school ball, travel ball, college ball, professional ball – as he is. And, to the uninitiated, let it be known they do keep tabs on one another.

“Throughout the year the new rankings come out and you see different names, but once you get out on the field with all these same guys it’s great,” he said. “You’re out here talking to them all day, trying to create bonds with them (and) trying to create relationships, even though I’ll see them throughout the summer. … Just seeing the big names that come here, trying to talk to them and trying to get to know them a little bit better will definitely help me out throughout the summer.”

It’s more than just idle chatter, of course. High-level prospects are always trying to get better and they’re not afraid to pick one another’s brains if they feel like there’s something to be learned. A guy like Casas, for instance, might seek out another left-handed power hitter and ask him what goes through his mind at the plate: Are you thinking home run? Are you thinking just drive the ball? Just what, exactly, are you thinking up there?

When asked how he feels about the way his game has developed to this point, Casas said pointedly: “I’ve been pleased but I haven’t been satisfied; there are always things to improve upon,” Casas said. That response doesn’t surprise his dad.

“He’s a workhorse; this kid doesn’t stop working,” Jose said. “The only thing that sets you apart in this world, for him, is his work ethic, and that’s it. I’m confident in his skill set and his work load and his size. I’m just happy to be here and I don’t know where the chips are going to fall but I’m prepared and I made him prepared.

“We come here with the expectation to do our best, and if you work in the right way you’re going shine,” he continued. “If you didn’t, you either win or you learn; now I’ve learned what I didn’t do right and let’s go back to the drawing board.”

Casas grew up a University of Miami fan – “I always wanted to be a Hurricane since the day I came out of the womb,” he said – and he didn’t hesitate to accept the Canes’ scholarship offer the minute it was put on the table. He talks adoringly about the U. of Miami in much the same way he talks about American Heritage School.

When reminded that the first two picks to come off the board at this year’s MLB June Amateur Draft – Royce Lewis and Hunter Greene – were at jetBlue Park for the 2016 PG National Showcase only a year ago, Casas smiled at the thought. He got to call those two guys “teammates” on last year’s 18u USA Baseball 18u National Team.

“It was quite an experience to get to know those guys and then to finally see them being drafted,” Casas said. “It’s definitely an honor to be standing here in the same dugout that so many professional and major league players have been in, and this is definitely something that I don’t take lightly.”

During his conversation with PG, Jose Casas mentioned the term “win-win” more than a couple of times. He considers his son to be in a win-win situation if he’s forced to choose between Miami and a professional career at the age of 18, but it goes beyond that.

To Jose Casas’ way of thinking, everyone is always in a win-win situation because people do have the capability of turning what might at first appear to be a losing experience into a valuable learning experience. And on this Father’s Day, he has only one thought.

“I just want him to develop as a good young man, as a man of principle, as a man of honor and as a hard-working man, and everything else will fall into place, he said. “This is a great ride and I have a special kid. I’m taken aback by how special and how disciplined he is on the work side of things … and good things will just follow.”

Triston Casas has no doubts about that because he’ll always have his dad to lean on.

“With (my mom’s) passing, I was basically in his hands and he raised me the way he thought I should be raised in her honor,” he said. “He took me into his hands and he made me into the person I am today and I owe everything to him.”

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