Casillas (pictured) was in his first year with the Mustangs in 2023. Credit: Mia-Isobel Craig | Mustang News, 2023

According to Cal Poly Athletics, junior shortstop Aaron Casillas decided to transfer from CSU Bakersfield to Cal Poly after last season because “San Luis Obispo is a beautiful place and the atmosphere is amazing. The fans love the baseball team and enjoy watching the games, making it even more exciting and enjoyable to play in.” 

It’s a good thing he transferred, too, because the team needed to replace one of the most decorated players the program has ever seen.

Indeed, even if Cal Poly baseball hadn’t struggled this season—they finished with a 21-35 record and went 11-19 in Big West play—the loss of Brooks Lee would likely still have been felt regardless. 

Which is understandable. After all, he was the eighth overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, a two-time Big West Player Of The Year, 2021 Big West co-Freshman Of The Year and a two-time All-American.

Oh, and he’s also Top 10 in school history for most major offensive categories, including career batting average (.351), career doubles (53), single-season doubles (27), single-season home runs (15) and career home runs (25).

But even after all that, it turned out there was no need to worry. Why? Because all Aaron Casillas did as Cal Poly’s everyday shortstop was have the best season of his career, become one of the breakout players in the Big West conference and fill the leadership role held by Lee last season.

Casillas finished as the Mustangs’ second-leading hitter (.329 BA), first on the team in hits (76), third on the team in doubles (15) and RBIs (40) and ended the 2023 campaign with 91 total bases, good for third on the team. 

Those numbers also helped him finish 13th in the Big West in batting average and doubles, third in hits and 20th in RBIs. And, perhaps most notably, all of these were career-high totals.

“I know for me, I’m probably not going to live up to what [Brooks Lee] left,” Casillas said. “So I just want to do my best to support the team, and play the best defense I can, be the best hitter I can, help the team drive in runs and make plays.”

He did all of that and more and had a season that impressed not just himself, but head coach Larry Lee as well.

“He’s been a total package,” Lee said. “He understands the game, he has a high baseball IQ and he’s fundamentally sound. He’s been one of our most consistent hitters at the five-hole within our lineup. He’s a bright spot within our team.”

Perhaps the single brightest spot, during a season chock-full of them, was the 18-game hit streak he put together from March 26 until April 25. During the streak, which is tied for the sixth-longest in school history, he tallied 31 total hits, produced 15 RBIs and had a .402 batting average, showcasing that consistency.

Casillas also became a leader in the clubhouse and on the field, something that many players in their first year with a new team — let alone transfers — find difficult to do. 

Casillas said that without the encouragement of his teammates, he likely wouldn’t have adjusted so well, or spoken up as much as he does now.

“The returning guys like Joe Yorke and Ryan Stafford, they’ve helped me use my voice,” Casillas said. “At first, I was a little timid because [I was] in a new program and learning the ways of this program. So those guys helped me a bunch [in terms of] understanding just how things work around here. … They definitely helped me learn the program as quickly as possible.”

And now, three months later, he’s reached the end of his first season at Cal Poly firmly established as one of the most consistent hitters in the Big West, a leader in the Mustang clubhouse and is set to return to shortstop next year.

And fittingly enough, his goal for next year is the same as it was this season: help the team win not by being the “next” Brooks Lee, but by continuing to be Aaron Casillas.

After all, it’s worked out pretty well so far.