- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

Potomac Cannons manager Bob Henley likens moving from the outfield to third base to changing sports.

The switch was going to be tough enough last season for Kory Casto, but early in the year he tried to backhand a ground ball that took a wayward bounce. The ball struck him in the face and broke his left eye socket.

Casto returned to low-Class A Savannah in the Washington Nationals farm system less than a month later but struggled with his defense for much of the year.

“I was afraid of the ball for a while, to be honest with you,” Casto said. “It wasn’t fun. The organization has seen that before, and they knew it would take a while. That’s just what it was, getting comfortable again after something that traumatic.”

The final numbers were a mix of good and bad for Casto. In his first full season after being drafted in the third round in 2003 out of the University of Portland, Casto hit .286 with 16 home runs and 35 doubles. He flashed potential with the bat that makes him Washington’s top hitting prospect below Class AAA, but he also committed 35 errors in 112 games.

Casto was an outfielder with Portland, but the then-Montreal Expos had a huge organizational void at third base.

“At the end of my short season at Vermont [in 2003], they asked me to take a few ground balls over there,” Casto said. “Then they said to take some during the offseason, and when I came back last spring I never saw the outfield again.”

After Casto made the switch, the organization traded for Brendan Harris in the Orlando Cabrera/Nomar Garciaparra deal and signed veteran free agent Vinny Castilla this offseason. Still, the 23-year-old Casto could be the future for the Nationals at third base.

This season Casto is hitting .297 at high-Class A Potomac. More importantly, his defense is much improved. Casto has had a steady diet of ground balls and does drills to improve his hands and footwork. He has committed one error through 10 games.

“In spring training, we were hoping he could make the routine plays,” said Adam Wogan, Washington’s director of player development. “But we saw that he’s starting to make plays you don’t see in ordinary third basemen.”

Added Casto: “Things are looking a lot better this year. I’m more comfortable, and my footwork is better. I found an arm slot that works for me because last year I was all over the place.”

Farm notes — The first weeks of the minor league season have been marked by inactivity for many of the Nationals’ top prospects. More than a quarter of the organization’s top 25 prospects (according to Baseball America’s yearly rankings) have missed time or not played because of injuries.

“The injuries are always a little disappointing,” Wogan said. “They aren’t all arm injuries, though, and some are actually looking up a bit.”

Wogan said pitchers Clint Everts and Shawn Hill, both recovering from Tommy John surgery last season, are throwing and could be pitching again as early as June. That would be quicker than anticipated.

A pair of prize left-handers — Mike Hinckley and Bill Bray — eventually will pitch for Class AA Harrisburg. Hinckley strained his shoulder during spring training, and the organization is being cautious with Bray’s back in the cooler weather.

A pair of 2004 draft picks — second-rounder Erik San Pedro, a catcher from Miami (Fla.), and fifth-rounder Greg Bunn, a right-handed pitcher from East Carolina — have yet to begin their first full season. San Pedro is recovering from thumb surgery and will join Potomac.

Wogan said Bunn needs to be stretched out more. He threw four innings in an extended spring training game last week and will be ready soon. Originally slated for Potomac, he may begin the season a level lower at Savannah.

Right-handed pitcher Josh Karp missed a couple of starts at Class AAA New Orleans with numbness in his hand but was activated Friday.

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