In his first year in the Braves organization, Ryan Casteel made some Southern League history.
The veteran first baseman recorded the first three-homer game in team history, collecting four hits, five RBIs and four runs scored in Double-A Mississippi's 14-13 loss to Pensacola on Wednesday night at Blue Wahoos Stadium. All three roundtrippers were hit to left-center field.
Video: Braves' Casteel notches first career three-homer day
After receiving 76 congratulatory text messages after the game from friends and family, Casteel quipped, "And I'm not that popular," adding there's no chance he will get that many texts on his birthday.
"I can't really describe the feeling," he said. "It's just one of those nights where you don't want it to end."
The Braves scored four times in the first inning off Twins No. 19 prospect Jorge Alcala.
"He's got good stuff, he just left some balls over the plate and I didn't miss," Casteel said. "That was the key, is just not missing my pitch."
The 28-year-old knows it's difficult to collect opposite-field homers in Pensacola, and he's more of a pull hitter, so when his swing is going right, he usually finds the gap in left-center anyway. Casteel capped the Braves' big inning with a two-run shot on a hanging 2-2 breaking slider.
Gameday box score
"He actually jammed me a little bit," Casteel said, "but I got enough barrel to it to get it kinda up in the jet stream a little bit. The wind in Pensacola blows out to left, and so I got enough and snuck it over."
In the third, the 28-year-old doubled to right on another 2-2 offering. The third time was not the charm for Alcala, whose 3-1 fastball just cleared the fence for a solo blast in the fourth.
"It was right where I wanted it," he said. "That was probably the best one I hit."
Righty reliever Jeff Ames fared no better against Casteel, who golfed an 0-1 curveball over the wall to complete the Braves' first three-homer performance since the team joined the Southern League in 2005.
2019 Minor League milestones
"I saw [a pitch] I thought was up, and it was up enough to do some damage with," Casteel said. "It ended up being a pretty good pitcher's pitch. I got the barrel to it and thankfully it went out."
Casteel said going for a fourth homer in the seventh kind of crossed his mind, but righty Hector Lujan unexpectedly threw him five straight fastballs in the mid-90s.
The Rockies' 17th-round pick in the 2010 Draft raised his average 21 points to .298. He has 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 64 games. It was Casteel's fifth career multi-homer effort and his second in 11 appearances -- he went deep twice on June 23 against Biloxi. The five RBIs tied the career high he established on Aug. 29, 2010 for Rookie Advanced Casper.
The Chattanooga, Tennessee, native returned to affiliated ball this year after he spent last season with Lancaster of the independent Atlantic League, batting .321 with 16 homers and 70 RBIs in 104 games. In 2017, Casteel played for Double-A Arkansas, where he hit .272 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs in 100 games in the Mariners organization.
"It was honestly a great experience," he said. "You really figure out how much you love the game and it just kind of reignited that fire, the appreciation day in and day out just to be blessed with a job. It gave me a new sense of thankfulness, gratitude."
2019 MiLB include
After his strong season in the Atlantic League, Casteel signed with Atlanta, the team he rooted for as a child. "I'm just trying to take advantage of it every night," he said.
The Braves and Blue Wahoos combined for a league-record 20 extra-base hits, eclipsing the mark of 19 set by Charlotte and Asheville on April 24, 1971 and matched by Greenville and Birmingham on July 30, 1986. Top Braves prospect Cristian Pache went 3-for-6 with a pair of doubles and two runs scored for Mississippi, whose 13 extra-base hits tied the Southern League standard.
Twins No. 28 prospect Travis Blankenhorn matched his career high with four hits, including a two-run homer in the second. After the Blue Wahoos scored seven times in the seventh, Blankenhorn singled off righty reliever Connor Johnstone in the eighth, stole second and scored the go-ahead run on a base hit by 24th-ranked Ben Rortvedt.