By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Toronto looks to have found a steal in the 13th round of this year’s Major League Baseball draft, and he can be found playing the infield for the Bluefield Blue Jays.
Tim Locastro, the 385th player chosen in the draft last month, owned the fourth best batting average (.333) in the Appalachian League going into Saturday’s league contests, and has stolen eight bases in nine attempts.
After finishing a superlative junior year playing baseball for the Bombers of Ithaca (N.Y.) College, he felt that his name might be announced during the draft.
“I wasn’t drafted in any previous round, but I talked to a couple of scouts, and I had a lot of questionnaires and medical forms that I filled out,” he said. “So I thought that I would be drafted this year. I wasn’t 100 percent sure, but I had a good feeling that I would.”
“Me and my mom and dad, we were in the basement, watching (the live draft coverage at mlb.com) on the computer. I actually went upstairs to charge my phone, because I knew that if I was going to be drafted, I was going to get a call.
“As soon as I went upstairs and put my phone on the charger, I heard my dad yell ‘Yes!’ And right then I knew I’d been drafted.”
His life changed immediately. “I got so many calls, my phone froze, and I actually missed the second call from Toronto. I had to reset my phone and call them back,” he said.
After that Saturday, he didn’t waste any time. His signing decision made, he left his home in Auburn, N.Y., the following Wednesday and arrived at Toronto’s spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla.
“My scout, Jamie Lehman, told me it’d be a quick process,” Locastro said.
His support network, in addition to his parents, included his high school coach T.J. Gamba and Ithaca College head coach George Valesente, both of whom played in the minor leagues. He sought their advice prior to leaving New York state.
“They just told me to be myself and not over-do it. Too many guys do that,” he said. “Just play within yourself (and) things will work out.”
“They should know; they played professionally. I took their advice to heart.”
Getting along with his teammates was “really easy,” he said. “When we got here, everybody was in the same situation.”
He admitted that when he first took the field as a professional, “I was star-struck.”
“At first, I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “I’d heard that it might be a bigger transition, coming from D-3 (NCAA Division III).”
“It’s started to sink in, day by day. ... Now, halfway through the season, I think it’s set in all the way.”
He has batted .361 so far in July, helping Bluefield to a 22-12 record, tops in the Appy League East Division.
In the Appalachian League, he said, “The pitching has definitely been better (than college). I’ve just been going to the plate and trying to get contact and to put the ball in play. It’s found the holes. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to do what I’ve done.”
“I’ve got a lot of trust in the guys behind me to get me home.”
With his 8-of-9 steal rate, he has a virtual green light to go for another base.
He said, “If I can get on base and then get into scoring position, there’s a lot less pressure on me. With people in scoring position, we know we can get one in: Our hitters are some of the best in this league.”
His college career backs up the limited sample of his rookie-league batting average.
He batted .436 this spring for Ithaca, helping the Bombers to a school-record 41 wins and a third-place finish nationally.
Ithaca lost in the national semifinals of the Division III College World Series, in 13 innings.
Locastro was walked intentionally three times that day, and was named to the all-tournament team. He was 10 for 19 in the CWS, including two home runs.
A business major with a minor in sport studies at Ithaca, Locastro’s contract includes a clause that provides for the Toronto organization to help him complete his college degree.
That may not happen immediately, Locastro said hopefully.
“It depends on what happens this season,” he said.
He said that signing a pro contract and giving up his senior year of college baseball “was definitely a tough decision, especially because our team last year was so good — we made it to the College World Series.
“We didn’t win it all, but we definitely thought that this year we’d have a chance to go back and, hopefully, win it all this year.”
“It was tough, leaving, especially because some of my best friends are there, and great coaches. It was just tough leaving the experience behind, but after weighing out the pros and cons, becoming a pro this year was the better choice, so that’s why I made my choice.”
The goal of professional ballplayers is to move up through the minor leagues, but Locastro said, “Right now, I’m trying to take this one game at a time. If the opportunity presents itself, that’d be great, but I’m focusing on Bluefield right now.”
Locastro has long been a fan of the New York Yankees and shortstop Derek Jeter, and welcomed the news that the captain may be able to rejoin his team as soon as today.
“They definitely need a shortstop that can help them win right now,” Locastro said. “If he can help them win, I’m all for it.”
“But it’s not only his play that has made him so valuable. It’s his leadership that helps them win. It’s been that way ever since he was brought up.”
Since Locastro is in the Blue Jays organization now, he was asked about his loyalties between the two division rivals.
“If they play each other, I guess I’ll have to root for Toronto,” he said. “Any other game, I hope they both win.”
Asked about the Mercer Cup Series with Princeton, he said, “It’s exciting. We’re in a rivalry, something that you don’t see much of at this level. ... The fans love it, so that makes it a little more important. The games have a little more meaning.”
— Contact Tom Bone at