Life for a minor league baseball player during spring training can get pretty routine. Arrive at the complex early in the morning, run, stretch and throw.
For Steve Ascher, though, Saturday morning was different. That was when the pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays organization saw team rosters posted by the main entrance and learned that he had been promoted to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits in Alabama.
“I was just excited,” Ascher, a 22-year-old pitcher from Cutchogue, told The Suffolk Times in a phone interview from Port Charlotte, Florida. “I was hoping at the end of last year that this is what it would be. It’s just so satisfying. I think at my age and how quick I’ve done it, it shows that I mean something to the organization.”
Ascher, a 6-foot, 185-pound lefthander, was selected by the Rays in the 17th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of SUNY/Oneonta. After spending 2014 with the Princeton Rays in West Virginia in a rookie league, Ascher played at the Class-A advanced level last year and helped the Charlotte Stone Crabs win their first Florida State League championship. He went 7-3 during the regular season with a 2.50 earned run average. He had 39 strikeouts and two walks, allowing 71 hits over 75 2/3 innings. Teams hit .251 off him as he made 35 appearances, 31 in relief.
Over his two years in the minor leagues, Ascher is 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA.
The former Mattituck High School star, whose baseball card is on display in the school’s trophy case, received praise for his play. After Ascher pitched four innings of scoreless relief, striking out five batters in Charlotte’s title-clinching win over the Dayton Tortugas, Stone Crabs manager Michael Johns said in an interview that was posted on YouTube, “Ascher’s had stones all year.” Johns said Ascher has “that intangible of being able to get out of tough situations because he’s got grit and he’s got heart and he was awesome. He’s been awesome all year.”
Now Ascher takes his talents to a higher level.
“It’s just nice to be moving up,” he said. “I get to prove myself at another level.”
Ascher arrived in Florida on Feb. 20, a couple of weeks early, to prepare for spring training. Playing for Montgomery and the Triple-A Durham (N.C.) Bulls, he did not allow a run in five and two-thirds innings and conceded only one hit while striking out seven and walking two.
Ascher said he worked with former major league pitcher Dick Bosman, the Rays’ pitching coordinator, on inside fastballs and throwing his breaking ball for strikes.
After a workout Sunday morning, Ascher will make a nine-hour drive from Port Charlotte to Montgomery. The Biscuits will open their season on Thursday in Jackson, Mississippi.
“I feel great,” Ascher said. “I’m really just ready for the season to get going.”
Photo caption: Lefthanded pitcher Steve Ascher of Cutchogue, in his third year of professional baseball, has been promoted to Double-A ball by the Tampa Bay Rays. (Credit: Garret Meade, file photo)