Get To Know: Twins First Base Prospect Ryan Costello
Image courtesy of Linwood Ferguson (photo of Ryan Costello)Let’s start at the beginning. Ryan Costello grew up just outside of Hartford, Connecticut. Yes, he was a Red Sox fan. “When I was a kid, I was a big Nomar (Garciaparra) fan. Then I remember Pedroia came up. I was always a big fan of Dustin Pedroia.”
As you child, he played soccer, basketball, flag football and other sports. When he got to be about ten years old, he said, “It was just basketball and baseball mostly.”
He played Little League and other youth sports, but it didn’t take him long to come up with his “When I grow up” dream job. “Once I got to high school, that’s when I really started to realize that was what I wanted to do when I went to college. I wanted to play professional baseball and that was what I was aspiring to do. After my freshman year of high school, I quit basketball and just focused on baseball more and be able to work out more in the offseason and do more sport-specific stuff.”
His high school team was good but not great. “Junior year, we went 13-7. Senior year, we were 12-8. My junior year we went on a run for awhile and made it to the semi-finals of the state. One kid on that team ended up going to the same college that I went to, so we ended up being college teammates.“
After high school, Costello stayed close to home and attended Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut. “I went and checked out Central. I liked it. I had known about Central my whole life. I’m only 15 minutes from the school. I had gone to their basketball games and I’d heard that the program was good. So when the time came, a couple of weeks later, I hadn’t heard from many other schools. It was … I wanted to go there. I didn't wont to make them wait. I made a decision early in the recruiting process and it ended up working out.”
As a youth, Costello and his family went to several New Britain Rock Cat games. As you recall, the Rock Cats were the Double-A affiliate of the Twins for many years. “I remember thinking that was pretty cool and thinking there were some big time players who came through Connecticut.”
He was a part-time player as a freshman, and after a strong start to his sophomore season, a broken finger ended his season early. Then as a junior, he had a strong, full season. In 58 games, he hit .296/.423/.532 (.955) with 22 doubles and nine home runs. It was a process and a lot of work to develop his power.
“I would say knowing myself and maturing physically too, getting bigger throughout those years definitely helped, getting stronger. We had a good strength program, so as a team we were always in the weight room, five days a week. Putting on some weight, getting stronger, definitely contributed.”
In addition to the added power, Costello had a really strong approach at the plate. He walked 45 times and struck out 38 times. It was all part of his development and maturity.
“(The development was) Maturity-driven, understanding that as the year progressed, in certain situations, they weren’t going to give me much to hit, especially in big situations in a game. I was ready to hit. I would tone it down and look in a specific area because I knew that they were going to try to flip me stuff and get me to chase. So that kind of led to more walks than strikeouts.”
And that’s when the scouts started showing up to the small Division I school in the north. “It was more during my junior year. That was when I started getting more contact, getting some questionnaires. Was seeing more interest in teams looking to me becoming a professional baseball player.”
The Mariners used their 31st round pick to select Costello. He found himself on a bus when his name was selected.
“I’m not as superstitious as I used to be, but at that time I was pretty superstitious. I knew a couple of kids that were really good ball players that were on scouts’ radars that didn’t get picked up that year. So, I tried to treat everything as if I wasn’t getting drafted. So I was actually in Vermont, on a bus, playing summer ball when I got the call.”
As a junior, Costello had some leverage and could have returned to college for his senior season. But for Costello, it wasn’t about the money, and he put a lot of thought into his decision to sign.
“I knew that the money wasn’t going to be bigl I wasn’t going to be a Top 10 guy, where I was and where I was playing college ball. To get exposure and get cross-checkers to come take a look at you is a little bit more difficult.” Costello continued, “For me, it was just important to take the next step. I was willing to go a bit later instead of staying another year.”
He made his professional debut a year ago with the Mariners’ rookie Arizona League team. In 2018, he began the season with the Clinton LumberKings. His manager was former Twins utility man Denny Hocking, and he really enjoyed the experience.
“It was amazing. I connected with Denny really well. He really knew how to take the different personalities that were on our team and understand how to communicate with them, and I was one of those guys. Clinton, Iowa, isn’t the nicest area. We were a team built for that. We had a lot of tough guys, college guys. He was really good about bringing a positive environment every day. We just rolled with the punches of the season. Having him at the helm of the team really gave up a good environment to play in.”
For the LumberKings, Costello played well, hitting in the middle of their lineup. In 101 games, he hit .266/.360/.486 (.845) with 24 doubles, 16 homers and 70 RBI. He participated in the Midwest League All Star game with Kernels’ representatives Jared Finkel, Alex Kirilloff, and Royce Lewis.
On the day he was traded, he was participating in batting practice when the team’s other first baseman told him that he was now playing first base. When he came into the clubhouse at the end of batting practice, he was called into his manager’s office.
“What’s going on? Did I do something? Did I upset him?” These were the thoughts that entered Ryan Costello’s mind.
When he got to Denny Hocking’s office, he saw the entire coaching staff and his roommates sitting in there. He was a bit confused. “I had no idea the trade deadline was coming.”
Hocking said, “Do you know why I took you out of the lineup today?”
Costello responded, “Well, did I do something wrong?”
Costello continued, “Well, either I got promoted, or I got traded.”
“Which one do you think?”
“I’m going to say promoted.”
“Nope. The other one.”
For any young player traded, there are a couple of emotions that come into play. Obviously it’s difficult leaving one organization and all of the relationships that have been developed. At the same time, there is another organization that likes you enough to acquire you.
“It’s a little of both. You always hear that being traded is a good thing in the minor leagues. It means that an organization likes you. They want you. Obviously it’s still tough. I had just spent three or four months with this team, built some great relationships. Initially, it was a bit up and down for me. I didn’t really know how to think about it at first because I knew it was a good thing, but I was still sad that I was leaving my boys and that coaching staff that I had really blended well with.”
Along with the trade, Costello also received a promotion from Low-A to High-A, being sent to the Ft. Myers Miracle. Costello wasn’t completely shocked by that news.
“Not really to be honest with you. There was talk with the Mariners that I was possibly getting promoted soon. When I found out about it, Jeremy Zoll called me and before I could even process anything, he filled me in on some details and told me I was going to Ft. Myers. When he said that, I was still trying to process everything that was going on, and by the time stuff slowed down and I realized I was headed to Ft. Myers to play for the Miracle, I wasn’t too surprised.”]
When he got to the Miracle, there were a couple of familiar faces.
“From the Midwest League All Star game, I had met Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis. So coming in, I knew they were on that team. So it was cool rolling in there and having some relationship and were on a first-name basis and knew who each other were off the field a little bit.”
First professional season. Traded to a new organization. Earning a promotion. And, Costello joined a team that was about to go on a very strong run to end the season. He was ready, and h was excited for the opportunity.
“It was really awesome. It’s definitely cool coming into an environment where you’re thrown into pressure right away. I remember the day I got there, I was in the game and I think we were two games back at the time. I got filled in on what was going on. Everything matters right now. Every pitch. Every play. Every at bat matters. I took it as a blessing coming from, I think we were 8 games back in Clinton. I had the opportunity to play some playoff baseball this year, might as well take advantage of it.”
And he certainly took advantage of it. In the final game of the Miracle season, a win that gave Ft. Myers the Florida State League championship series, it was Ryan Costello’s three-run homer that gave them a lead that they never gave up.
“That was awesome. That was a high during the moment, and eventually to have the season end that night and end on such a high note, it was pretty awesome.”
Ryan Costello added four home runs (during the regular season) to finish the season with 20 home runs.
“It was kind of a goal. It was something in the back of my mind. It was something I knew I could achieve if I put together a good season and stayed consistent throughout. I had written down some things for myself going into the season that I wanted to check back at the end. Hitting 20 home runs was on that list.”
While he hits for power, he doesn’t want to be deemed solely a power hitter. He notes, “I would like to be more of a well-rounded hitter. I’m not all about hitting home runs. Mentally I try to stay line-drive driven and let the other stuff happen. But as the season went on this year, I was getting close to the 20-home run mark and I was like ‘this is pretty cool.’ I wouldn’t say that I consider myself just strictly a power hitter. I would like to be a more well-rounded hitter who can hit for power.”
Like many, Costello was a shortstop on his high school team. In college, he played primarily third base. However, in his first professional season, he made 110 starts at first base and just four starts at third base. Over the course of the season, he got more comfortable at the new position.
While he had a solid first full professional season on the field, he thinks that his greatest skill at this point is in his head. “I would say my ability to stay positive through tough times and understand that it’s part of the game and ups and downs are going to come. But if I can stay more level-headed and put myself in a position mentally to be successful, then things will kind of work themselves out a little bit.”
As he enters the offseason, there are several things he plans to work on. “I want to improve my batting. I want to get stronger. I want to be a bit more consistent in the box. The second half this season this year didn’t go as well as I would have liked it to. I think that was an adjustment to playing so many games and a couple of things in my swing or in my approach. So, I’m going to take a step back and look at that and break it down from the bottom to the top and try to come back and be just a little more consistent at the plate.”
But he also will spend some time away from the game of baseball before jumping back into his preparation for 2019.
“Golfing and fishing. My dad has a bass boat and has had it since I was a kid. The first thing we do when I go home is go fishing. I’ve been home for seven days, I’ve been out fishing about four of those days. I live about five minutes from a river, the Connecticut River, so we go fishing on the river a lot.”
Ryan Costello was a late-round pick, but he had a very solid first full season as a professional baseball. He has a lot of positives to build from as he looks to year two.
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