Triston Casas isn’t old enough to drive after 11 p.m. in Florida, but that didn’t stop him from helping USA Baseball’s U18 team win the COPABE Pan American Championship.
Team USA wrapped up the tournament with a 6-1 championship game defeat of Cuba on Sunday. Casas, at 16 the youngest player on the team, hit clean-up for Team USA and had two homers in the tournament, which was held in Monterey, Mexico.
Barbe (Lake Charles, La.) coach Glenn Cecchini, the Team USA U18 manager, was impressed with the sophomore’s power hitting, but he was more impressed with the player’s willingness to do what it took to win. Casas wasn’t initially selected for the U.S. Team Trials. He played well last summer for Team USA’s U15 team and did well in the National Team Identification Series, so when a schedule change in the Pan America Championships led to four Trials invitees dropping out, Casas was called up.
“It’s amazing how well he did,” Cecchini said. “He has great raw power, but he’s so much more than that. He pitched well for us, but what I’m amazed with is his approach at the plate. He has a definite plan and he takes what they give him.”
Casas is 6-3 and 241 pounds. In the eight tournament games, Casas hit .333 for the tournament and drove in 11 runs. He also threw three innings, allowing one unearned run.
“It was a surprise just for me to get selected at Trials,” Casas said. “Then, at Trials with Nick Pratto playing first base, I didn’t think I had a chance to make the team, let alone be here in Mexico, hitting fourth for this team. It’s definitely an honor. I never thought even a month ago that I would be in the position I am now.”
Casas said Pratto, a first baseman and pitcher from Huntington Beach, Calif., and other team members mentored him throughout the Trials and into the tournament.
“The best thing about this tournament was meeting this great staff and all these players,” Casas said. “I had looked up to all these kids because they were older than me. Just to be able to compete with them is the highest honor.”
Team USA was trailing Cuba 4-1 in the round-robin portion of the tournament. Casas came up with one out in the eighth inning and started a four-run rally with a fielder’s choice RBI. Team USA went on to win the game 5-4.
“They kept throwing him curve ball after curve ball and he kept fouling it off,” Cecchini said. “He realized he wasn’t going to get a pitch he could hit out or a gapper, so all he could do was go the other way and hit one in the sixth hole and drove in a run. He really did his job.”
The left-handed hitting Casas homered in the first game of the tournament, an 11-1 defeat of Panama. Last Thursday, he broke the game open in a 10-0 defeat of Brazil with a three-run homer.
“It was a curve ball,” Casas said. “I had fouled off a change-up and a curve ball and he gave me the curve ball again, so he had thrown me three straight 3-2 off-speed pitches and I eventually hit the curve ball. … My job on this team is to drive runs.”
Casas was a key player last season as a freshman at American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), hitting .453 with four homers and 24 RBI as a first baseman, third baseman and pitcher. He said the experience he gained at the Pan American Games will help him trust his abilities.
“I need to work on my overall aggressiveness at the plate,” he said. “I miss too many pitches up there when I’m hitting. I know with my size if I put good wood on it, it’s going to fly. Basically, I try to stay in the middle of the field and hit line drives. I know with those line drives, if they have a little backspin on them, they will be home runs.”