If there's one thing that JMU baseball players can do, it's hit. Steven Caseres (Staunton 07) is no exception. As a freshman in 2007, Steven hit 298/382/551 in 178 at-bats, with 10 doubles, 11 home runs, 35 runs, 40 RBI, and a 22/49 BB/K ratio.
He stepped it up in his sophomore year, hitting even better: 342/438/734 in 222 at-bats, with 20 doubles, 21 home runs, 63 runs, 70 RBI, and a 39/53 BB/K ratio. He helped push the Dukes into the regionals of the College World Series.
The Los Angeles Dodgers noticed his ability, and made him their 9th round draft pick in '08. After signing, he was assigned to Ogden of the Pioneer League, where he hit 268/327/469 in 179 at-bats, with 11 doubles, 2 triples, 7 home runs, 24 runs, 38 RBI, and a 13/54 BB/K ratio.
The following spring he was assigned to Inland Empire of the California League- a full season league. While his average and slugging percentage stayed roughly the same as his first year in pro ball, his on-base percentage improved dramatically. After 393 at-bats, he ended at 260/360/468, with 25 doubles, 6 triples, 15 home runs, 61 runs, 55 RBI, and a 54/116 BB/K ratio.
Steven was generous enough to answer a battery of questions from ATVL during the offseason. Here's what he had to say:
All Things Valley League: JMU made a deep run in the world series in '08. What was so special about that team? How did the run happen?
Steven Caseres: We won the CAA and made a run into the regionals because of our hot play
towards the end of the year. We were pretty much running on all
cylinders, hitting, pitching, and defensively and got contributions from
everyone in the conference tourney and regional. Unfortunately, we ran
out of luck against USC. Our team was very close knit and had one goal
of winning the CAA and getting to a regional. It was the best team I
have been a part of to this day because we had so much fun playing
every day with each other.
ATVL: Where do you think JMU can get to as a program? Can it compete, eventually, with UVA, for example?
SC: To me, I think JMU can get to a very high level with the new facilities and with the good recruits they have coming in. JMU is one of the best places to be at when it comes to athletics, academics, and a good social life. I think the new field and complex will definitely help bring in more highly-touted recruits more frequently. I could have probably went to a "bigger" name school but when it came down to it, knowing I could play right away was the biggest factor. UVA has a great program and they started running off great seasons with their new stadium, hopefully JMU can match up to their success in the coming years.
ATVL: You were a 9th round pick by the Dodgers. I remember hearing that you weren't going to sign, but then you did. Could you explain the process of that decision?
SC: Since I was a red-shirt sophomore, I had some extra leverage when it
came to the draft. I wasn't going to leave JMU unless I got a good deal
with solid commitment from a club. When I went undrafted on the first
day, I was pretty set on returning for my junior season. The Dodgers
drafted me early on Day 2, and gave me a deal that I couldn't turn down.
ATVL: What did playing in Staunton (in the Valley League) do for your development as a player?
SC: I went to Staunton after a brief time up in the Cape Cod League. They took me in mid-summer when I really didn't have any other team to play for and really gave me a good deal, only being about 20 minutes from JMU. I can't say enough about the great people running that organization because they really gave me a second chance for the summer. The Valley League was a great experience for me because of the great competition you play night in and night out. On top of that, I was living alone in my house at JMU while everyone was gone for the summer. I really learned how to be on my own and that got me well prepared for pro ball when you are on your own a lot of the time. That team in Staunton now have 3 current Dodgers on it right now as well. (Tim Sexton, Bobby Hernandez, and myself.)
SC: I think I increased my walk rate this past season by having a better understanding of what pitchers were doing out there on the mound. I also think it had a lot to do with the umpires' zones shrinking significantly from rookie ball to hi-a because I tend to be very selective at times.
(Steven increased his percentage of walks per plate appearances from 6.6% in 2008 to 11.7% in 2009, while his percentage of strikeouts went down from 27.6% to 25.2%.)
ATVL: What does the Dodgers organization stress about hitting?
SC: In all honesty, the Dodgers do not really have a set philosophy when it
comes to hitting like some other organizations do. The one thing I can
say is that the Dodgers really want you to stay within your role as a
hitter. If you are an RBI guy they want you to drive in runs, whereas if
you are an on-base guy they want you getting on base any way possible.
ATVL: What do you do in the off-season to prepare for the next season?
SC: This off-season I've been working hard in the weight room to get stronger and doing agilities to get my footwork quicker. Hitting wise, my father and I have been practicing hard hitting and seeing left-handed pitching.
ATVL: Do you have any funny stories from pro ball?
SC: My funniest story so far had to be when we were playing at Great Falls, Montana and the power box exploded right over our dugout. It sounded like a gun blast and when I looked out onto the field, I saw our SS Dee Gordon running towards the outfield wall like someone was shooting up the place. The funniest part about it was that I thought nothing of it and kept standing around, and he legitimately was running for his life. We then had about an hour and a half delay, where both teams did skits on the middle of the field competing against each other to keep the crowd entertained. It was a very interesting night; unfortunately, I remember nothing about how the game actually finished.
Thanks for your time, Steven, and good luck on the road to the major leagues!