HILLSBORO, Ore. — Damon Casetta-Stubbs’ minor-league journey since the Seattle Mariners made him their 11th-round draft choice in 2018 includes stops at three A-level affiliates, glued to Netflix killing time on a 16-hour east coast bus ride, and lately, a scavenger hunt locating the Northwest League’s best chicken strips.
For the record, the Eugene Emeralds’ PK Park tops Casetta-Stubbs’ grub list for a pitcher who just turned 20, and is now a Northwest League All-Star one year removed from graduating from Vancouver’s King’s Way Christian High School.
The upside continues to be strong for the pitcher whose professional career began last summer at 18 with the Mariners’ rookie-league affiliate in Arizona.
A year later, after 11 games split between Advanced-A Modesto (Calif.) and Class A West Virginia, Casetta-Stubbs has settled into short-season Everett’s starting rotation as part of his first full pro season.
Being across the Columbia River from Vancouver this week, and pitching in Tuesday’s second game of a three-game series at Hillsboro’s Ron Tonkin Field against the Hillsboro Hops felt like home for Casetta Stubbs. It gave him time to reflected on his time with the Mariners system.
“I never thought I’d have the experiences I’ve had in different levels,” Casetta-Stubbs said. “That was huge for me, and I’ve been a better pitcher because of that.”
This week, he was named to the Northwest League All-Star team, one of two AquaSox playing in the Aug. 6 event hosted by Boise. It came a day after Tuesday’s start, pitching in front of more than 60 friends and family.
He went four innings, allowing two runs and three hits. He also struck out three and walked one in a 4-3 loss. In 10 appearances for Everett, Casetta-Stubbs is now 3-1 with a 4.00 ERA.
The last time Casetta-Stubbs pitched in Clark County came as a high-school senior in 2018. He led Class 1A King’s Way Christian to another championship game appearance following its 2017 title. Prospect Insider listed the teen as the organization’s top draft choice for 2018 after selecting him No. 328 overall.
As he’s quickly learned in the minors, no more relying on high-heat to blow by high school batters. Casetta-Stubbs said he’s a more complete pitcher.
“I definitely know how to pitch now,” he said. “In high school … I had enough to get by with a fastball and slider and get away with putting pitches down the middle. If you do that a lot here, you’re going to get a lot of home runs hit off you. It’s definitely a change; the amount you can miss is getting smaller and smaller as you go up.”
The body of work Casetta-Stubbs has produced so far is telling of his pitching development. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he brings a big-time feel with a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider that continues to be his go-to pitch.
But Casetta-Stubbs also embraced the Mariners’ challenges thrown at him from a spot appearance at high-A Modesto to one of the youngest players at low-A West Virginia. His first two starts in West Virginia, Casetta-Stubbs didn’t allow an earned run, but his ERA soared to 7.11 before his best outing June 11: zero earned runs on three hits over six innings.
Boosting the mental approach has been a difference maker, Casetta-Stubbs said, and regardless of the level, he’s learned you can’t have a lapse in focus.
“No matter where you’re at,” he said, “you have to maintain the same level of focus and intensity, or you’ll have another rough going.
“I had enough success to know I can succeed at that level,” he added, “but I’ve had enough failures to know I have to get better. That’s just the minor leagues.”
After 10 appearances at West Virginia, Casetta-Stubbs joined Everett for its short-season in mid-June and is part of a starting rotation that includes the Mariners’ top-two 2019 draft picks: starting pitchers George Kirby (Elon University), who joined Casetta-Stubbs as a NWL All-Star, and Brandon Williamson (Texas Christian).
And like he’s done every appearance since mid-May, baseball takes on a more special meaning.
When Ray Casetta died of a heart attack May 15 at age 77, Casetta-Stubbs didn’t just lose his maternal grandfather, he also lost one of the most influential people in his life and the man who first taught him baseball.
The same, old-school overhead pump on his delivery Casetta-Stubbs still uses today came from grandpa.
The day after his grandfather’s death happened to be Casetta-Stubbs’ turn in the rotation. He wanted to pitch, he said, and with a heavy heart, gave up nine hits and allowed four earned runs in five innings for a loss at Charleston (W.Va.).
Casetta-Stubbs’ biggest goal for the rest of the summer is for strong, consistent outings in a season now that’s dedicated to the person who showed him love for the game.
“He followed me everywhere I went,” Casetta-Stubbs said of his late grandfather. “… I feel like when I step on the mound, I think about him, and he’s happy and smiling.”