The first time Triston Casas popped onto Steve Bernhardt’s radar, the Florida high school first baseman was being talked about as not only one of the best 15-year-old hitters in the country—but one of the best in the world at that age.
After USA Baseball’s 15U National Team won gold at the COPABE Pan Am Championships in 2015, Bernhardt remembers a conversation with a scout about Casas, who had just hit .429/.556/.893 with two home runs while starting all nine games.
“The first time I heard about him, I was talking to a scout who had seen him play for the 15U national team,” said Bernhardt, the executive vice president at Baseball Factory and chairman of the Under Armour All-America Game selection committee. “I talked to an international scout who had been at the event, and he said of the pool he saw there, he would call Triston the best 15-year-old hitter in the world . . . because he was the best guy in the tournament.”
Fast-forward to 2018 and Casas has an even better claim to international dominance. Hanging prominently on the press-box wall at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex is a large poster of Casas. He is pictured in a crisp, white Team USA jersey with a black wood bat resting on his shoulder. Below his intense gaze is an inscription that speaks to the unique talent he possesses:
World Baseball Softball Confederation Player of the Year.
Just eight U.S. players have earned the award, and Casas is the first since Zack Collins in 2011. Notably, both Casas and Collins are products of American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla.
For Casas, the honor comes after two impressive seasons with USA Baseball’s 18U National Team. In 2016, he hit .333 with a team-high two home runs and 11 RBIs as Team USA won gold in the COPABE Pan Am Championships. Last summer, Casas again led the 18U team in home runs (three) and RBIs (13) while claiming MVP honors for the tournament, which the Americans once again won.
Matt Blood, director for USA Baseball’s 18U National Team, knew that Casas could impact the club from the first time he saw him prior to the 2016 Pan Am Championships.
“I first noticed his size,” Blood said of Casas, who currently stands 6-foot-4 and weighs roughly 240 pounds. “But then I quickly realized how advanced he was at the plate with his approach and his demeanor and ability to make adjustments and control the strike zone. He had a very profound and professional approach for such a young player.”
The lefthanded-hitting Casas comes with 70-grade raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale—and maybe more—but he also has a patient, selective approach. He rarely gets caught on his front foot trying to ambush a ball or yank it down the right-field line. His strength allows him to drive the ball with authority to any part of the park, but in batting practice he frequently works on hitting low line drives into shallow left field.
Casas, a Miami commit, isn’t just a professional on the field. He takes every part of his game and his life seriously. He puts in the offseason work in the gym to keep his large frame in shape. He eats well. He maintains good grades in school.
“The word that I use to describe him is ‘meticulous,’” Blood said. “He works on every part of his game very hard. He’s got desire to learn and aptitude—the ability to listen and put things into play, into his practice. And he wants to be really good at every part of his game. He wants to be a well-rounded player.”
The best example of that desire to improve might come from his time watching Nick Pratto get most of the reps at first base for Team USA in 2016. While Casas started every game at DH thanks to his bat, he understood that Pratto’s exceptional defensive ability at first—which factored into him being drafted 14th overall by the Royals in 2017—was at another level. A level that Casas wanted to get to.
“Triston is very observant,” Blood said. “He’s always paying attention, and he came to our trials as a—let’s just say an average defender.”
Blood said that Casas paid close attention to Pratto’s routine and habits and knew he needed to copy them. Pratto had such an impact on improving Casas’ defense that he now plays third base for American Heritage.
“Triston is playing a serviceable third base,” Blood said, “and the team that drafts him, I don’t know what they’re going to do with him, but maybe they try him at third base. And then they know as a backup plan they’ve got a plus defensive first baseman.”
Now, Casas tries to help impart his wisdom and experience to players younger than him, in the same way Pratto did in 2016. His younger brother, Gavin—who plays first base at American Heritage and is committed to Vanderbilt—gets the brunt of this attention, and occasionally Triston is hard on him.
But that’s only because he wants to see him continue having success. As a three-time gold medal winner with USA Baseball and a two-time Under Armour All-American, success is something Triston can speak to.
“From what I’ve seen he’s not a real vocal leader,” Bernhardt said. “But he’s such a nice person and a hard worker and such a talented player, the other players look to him to see how he’s acting and kind of take a lead from him.”
At the 2018 National High School Invitational, Bernhardt ran into Casas and said “hello” before a child ran up to Casas with a baseball card he wanted signed. Casas took the card, signed his autograph, talked with the kid and asked him some questions as only a professional would.
“Just like we say he has a mature approach at the plate he’s just a mature young man,“ Bernhardt said. “And he gets it. He cares about other people, and it’s not all about himself.”
A potential first-round pick who has been compared with players like Sean Casey and Freddie Freeman, Casas will have every opportunity to prove himself at a higher level. And he’s looking forward to it.
Casas said he is proud of his accomplishments and the hard work it took to get there. “It’s definitely something that’s very humbling,” he said of the giant poster that hangs on the wall at the USA Baseball complex. “. . . I’ve seen the USA alumni who are in the major leagues now, and even Hall of Famers who have put on the USA uniform, so for me to have my poster up here is a pretty amazing honor . . .
“I’m going to continue to do everything that I’ve been doing so I can have my posters in a lot more places.”