Opposing pitchers may be regretting Ryan Casteel's injury more than he is. Since suffering a fractured cheekbone July 11 and returning just eight days later, the Tulsa catcher/first baseman has been on a tear.
"I'd like to think every night I'm focused just to try to help the team," said Casteel, among the Teaxas League leaders with a .282 average, 14 home runs and 46 RBIs. "Maybe I'm a little more focused now, but I'd like to think I'm focused every night."
Casteel was injured while sliding into second base on a fourth-inning double against Arkansas. The throw from outfielder Maikol Gonzalez skipped past the middle infielder and hit Casteel in the right cheek. Casteel stayed in the game after being examined, but it wasn't easy.
"It was painful," Casteel said. "I knew we were limited with our catching -- if something happened to the catcher, I would have had to [take over] -- so I had to stay in. I had no choice."
As the pain continued to set in after the game, Casteel went to the hospital and was there until early morning getting X-rayed. He was diagnosed with damage to the sinus cavity and told he would miss four to six weeks.
But Casteel sought a specialist, who told him the damage wasn't as bad as originally thought and that he could do no further harm by playing. With that information, Casteel returned from the DL and began an eight-game stretch in which he went 12-for-33 with three home runs -- including two in one game -- and eight RBIs.
"It was a big relief," Casteel said. "Any time you get hurt it's disappointing, so it was good to get back."
Casteel could have signed with the University of Tennessee but had second thoughts and opted instead for Cleveland (Tenn.) State Junior College, in the same town where he played for Bradley Central High School.
He felt he might get on the field quicker and prove himself to scouts in junior college, and his plan panned out when, after one season, the Colorado Rockies took him in the 17th round of the 2010 Draft.
"I was in well with the coaches in my hometown and wanted to stay local, so that's really what played into it," Casteel said. "I think too if I went to Tennessee I might have had to sit a year."
Casteel primarily has been a catcher but was told in Spring Training to grab a first baseman's glove because he might be getting some work at the position. While catching is his first love -- he likes being in the center of the action and working with a talented Tulsa staff that includes top prospect Jon Gray -- but he's happy to do whatever it takes.
"Growing up I played some infield, so it wasn't totally new," Casteel said. "It's like anything -- hard work."
Whatever position he plays, Casteel appears to be working his way into prospect status, earning a berth on the North Division All-Star squad as a reserve. He has hit no lower than .270 at any of his Minor League stops, and with the first-half North champion Drillers, he's headed to the playoffs for the fourth time in five pro seasons.
"It's always been my dream to play pro ball and play in the big leagues," he said. "Obviously it's worked out well and gone as planned so far."
Health check: Los Angeles Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson was scheduled for a rehab start with the Arkansas Travelers on Monday night. Wilson, 8-6 with a 4.33 ERA in 19 starts for the Angels this season, is recovering from an ankle injury suffered July 10.
Matthes, Nash bash: Corpus Christi's Telvin Nash hit his league-leading 18th homer and 10th in 18 games in his first at-bat off the disabled list Saturday. But Midland's Kent Matthes went deep twice and drove in nine runs in a 10-4 victory over the Hooks on Saturday.
Run support: Frisco starter Jerad Eickhoff fanned nine San Antonio Missions and improved to 8-7 on the season, while J.T. Wise, Odubel Herrera and Joey Gallo all clubbed home runs and combined for six RBIs in the RoughRiders' 12-4 victory Sunday.
Todd Traub is a contributor to MiLB.com.