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Cooper Casad’s journey to professional baseball is a most unusual one.

The 22-year-old Santa Rosa native never played an inning of high school baseball. Summerfield Waldorf, a small private school, doesn’t have a program.

But he was on travel ball teams and played at College of Marin, then University of the Pacific, all the while honing his pitching skills. In the summers, he returned to Sonoma County and played for the Healdsburg Prune Packers.

Over the years, he’d had a few nibbles from scouts, but nothing solid.

Still, when the major league draft rolled around early last month, he thought he’d get a call. None came.

Then, in late June he was driving home from a pitching lesson and his phone rang with a number he didn’t recognize. It was the Giants.

Eight days later, Casad signed a free agent contract to join the San Francisco Giants’ minor league system. Five days later, he was assigned to the Arizona instructional league.

“I felt like I held it together decently well on the call,” he said in a phone interview from the Phoenix area. “After I hung up I went a little crazy. It’s been amazing.”

He acknowledges his path to pro ball has been unorthodox. But that makes it more special.

“It was 113 degrees this last week. But I absolutely love it,” he said. “Missing the draft and then getting picked up as a free agent, while not the ideal route, gave it extra value. It makes me appreciate it eve single day.”

He’s made two appearances in the rookie league.

In one full inning of work, Casad has given up two runs on five hits with one walk and three strikeouts. In travel ball and in college, he was mostly a starter, but had done some relief and some closing. But for a 6-foot, 185-pound right hander who can throw 95 mph, the Giants see him as a reliever.

While his outings haven’t gone perfectly, Casad said he’s learning every day.

“I have a journal I write things down at the end of the night,” he said. “It’s almost like there’s too much to soak in in one day, I have to write it down.

“It’s been a week and I feel like there’s so much new knowledge every day. I’m hungry to learn again tomorrow.”

After graduating from Summerfield Waldorf, Casad played at College of Marin, where he began to seriously develop as a pitcher, he said.

“I wasn’t getting too much attention (from scouts) in travel ball,” he said, or after his freshman year.

After a year of polishing his skills and hitting the weight room, Casad accepted Pacific’s offer to play at the private school in Stockton. After his first year there, he returned home for the summer to play for the Prune Packers of the amateur California Collegiate League.

“That to me was most pivotal moment as far as my game development,” he said.

He started a new lifting program with Taylor Lewis’ Academy of Total Performance in San Rafael.

“I spent the whole summer working out with him. It changed my body for the better,” Casad said.

“Not having school and being able to focus only on baseball allowed me to take baseball to a new level,” he said. “It instilled a newfound sense of confidence that I could take to the next year at Pacific.”

Casad felt he’d shown enough in his two years at Pacific to be selected in the June 4-6 MLB draft. He appeared in 37 games over two years, recording 79 strikeouts in 132⅓ innings and registering a 4.62 earned run average.

But no calls came.

“Honestly, it was quite a bit of a shock. I had a bit of an identity crisis,” he admitted.

“I’ve always thought I was a baseball player. This was the path I thought I was going to take. I had to sit back and reevaluate things.

“After few days, I realized still wanted to give baseball a try. Joey Gomes was kind enough to let me play a little with the Prune Packers.”

With the Healdsburg club, Casad had what he said were two of the best outings of his life.

Gomes, who has had several players drafted from his ranks, had seen Casad improve his game and get stronger over the years. Gomes has known Casad since he was an 11-year-old Little League player.

“He’s the kind of kid who was always asking questions, wanting to get better, wanting to develop, asking what are the scouts looking at or how can I self-improve to be better in the game,” Gomes said.

“I asked him, ‘Was there any team that was even moderately interested in you?’ ” he said, and Casad said the Giants scout had watched him a few times.

“Lemme see what I can do,” Gomes said, drawing on his network of contacts. “All I could do was tell them what he was doing. He got his fastball up to 94. Got his breaking ball a lot sharper, his change-up sharper … He also really, really developed his stamina. He could sustain 92 to 94 mph for 75 to 80 pitches.”

Casad said that gave him the extra factor the scouts wanted to see.

Since being in Arizona, Casad has already had an awakening. This isn’t college ball anymore. Every player is a cut above.

“I think I’m throwing a little better than the numbers might show. It’s definitely a little humbling,” he said. “I’m learning a lot. I do feel like I’m putting in the work and I’m going to continue working hard and try to ride this path out as long as I can. It really is awesome. All I’m doing is playing baseball and sleeping. And I love it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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