- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

Outfielder Kory Casto is the Nationals’ reigning two-time minor league player of the year. At 25, Casto is one of the organization’s top prospects, a player entering his prime.

Ryan Church likely will start in left field, but the Nats still are giving Casto a chance to win a spot on the Opening Day roster as either Ryan Zimmerman’s backup at third or as a fourth or fifth outfielder.

Casto was an Eastern League All-Star last season at Class AA Harrisburg, where he belted 20 home runs. He also batted .272 with 24 doubles, six triples and 80 RBI for the Senators.

Casto talked with Ken Wright last week.

Q: You’re the organization’s two-time minor league player of the year. Do you think your time is now?

A: That doesn’t give you much validation up here. It’s just one of those things where the organization honors you there. But this is a whole different ballgame up here.

The big leagues is the big leagues for a reason. I think I can compete at this level - yes, I can. But I think that the minor league player of the year doesn’t really do much for anybody up here. You’ve got to prove yourself one year at a time and not bank on past awards and stuff for that.

Q: So far, you’ve proven yourself at every level. Would you like to see what it’s like at Class AAA?

A: If Triple-A happens, Triple-A happens. If not, it’s not something that I’m worried about. I feel like Double-A and the Arizona Fall League is a good enough test for yourself to know if you’re ready.

Triple-A is a good league too, but if I go there, I go there. If I don’t, I’m not going to be disappointed or anything.

Q: Did the Montreal Expos draft you as an infielder and then switch you to the outfield?

A: The other way around. They drafted me as an outfielder and then I moved to the infield, then back out, and then back in kind of, and then back out kind of. Back and forth.

Just trying to find a spot to play, and that’s the biggest thing. If my bat’s there - like they say, if you can hit they’ll find a place for you to play. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.

Q: How do you like playing left field? Are you comfortable there? And, is that you’re best outfield position?

A: Left and right, the corners. I played a lot of right in college. Left was kind of something I did in pro ball, but I’m comfortable out there, comfortable in the infield. It’s two totally different parts of the game. I feel comfortable in both places, but left field is where I played the most last year.

Q: Where are you most comfortable in the infield?

A: Third. I’ve never played in the middle or first or anything. I played a couple games at second last year, but that was the first time that I’ve ever done that. Third, definitely … but Zim has got that locked up.

Q: What do you need to do in this camp to win a job?

A: I just need to prove to them that I’m going to be doing the same thing every day, be consistent, hit the ball hard, have good at-bats, see a lot of pitches, those kind of things.

My game is a high on-base percentage, hit around .280 or whatever, and drive in some runs and hit for some power. I’m probably not going to steal a ton of bases. I’m not going to do anything out of the ordinary. You know, I’m not a burner or anything. I’m just going to play my game and show them that I can do it every day.

Q: How did you like Class AA Harrisburg last year?

A: I loved it. The fans are great. The stadium out on the island there. The field, playing surface is top-notch. I had a lot of fun there, and it was a good time. John Stearns was my manager and I loved playing for him. It was a good experience overall.

Q: You’re from Portland, Ore. Is baseball big out there?

A: It’s a tough sport to get kids hooked on at a young age because it’s hard to get outside all year round. But there are a lot of facilities starting to pop up where you can get indoor stuff done.

I know for myself that I’m around the [University of Portland], where I went, and they do a winter camp. The turnout there was awesome this year. It’s starting to catch on a little bit more. More kids are focusing more on just baseball than playing three or four sports.

Q: Growing up did you play a lot of baseball in the rain?

A: A lot of baseball in the rain. A lot of tarp pulling. Stuff like that. You’ve got to battle the elements a little bit. It’s not too bad. I can deal with the cold and a little bit of rain, but if it’s pouring, you’ve got to go inside for the day.

Q: Has anybody opened your eyes in this camp?

A: Just being around all these guys is amazing. For me, it’s an eye-opener every day just watching guys. Everybody has something that they’re good at. Watching everybody - if it’s a middle infielder taking ground balls and how easy he makes it look or somebody with power, catchers, pitchers - it’s all just amazing. People at this level control the game at their pace.

Q: What has been your greatest baseball moment?

A: It’s gotta be just my high school experience. I played for a great coach. We won four conference championships while I was there. Just a real good and real competitive team.

The guys that I played with in college and high school are the guys that I keep as closest friends. It’s definitely the people that you meet along the way. That’s the best part of it.

Q: Did your team win the state title in high school?

A: No. We came up short three times. We made it to the quarterfinals, quarterfinals, semifinals, and quarterfinals. So, never quite got there.

Q: Who’s your best friend on this club?

A: I’d say Larry Broadway. Just because we’re coming from the minor league side and know each other like that. It’s tough to just jump in and know somebody right away. We definitely have the longest relationship.

Q: He’s had a tough time with his injuries.

A: That’s unfortunate when somebody has the talent and the ability and they work hard and the injury bug bites them, kind of like [Chris] Snelling. Just from the little bit that I know him, he’s a great guy and he’s just had unfortunate luck.

Q: Larry’s been swinging a pretty nice bat in this camp. What do you see?

A: He’s a big, strong guy. He has a real controlled swing for a big guy, and he’s able to make a lot of contact. He’s a good hitter.

Q: How is this clubhouse different from last year’s?

A: I think the biggest difference is that everybody is kind of on a level playing field. Everybody is friendly to each other. There’s not a lot of hoo-rah going on. It’s just down-to-earth guys playing baseball, playing hard, and it’s just the way Manny [Acta] is running camp.

They’ve done an unbelieveable job. It seems a lot smoother and crisper. Everything is flowing, everybody is getting a lot of work done. It doesn’t seem there is a lot of difference between everybody. Everybody is working towards one goal.

Q: Is this camp a well-oiled machine?

A: A couple guys in my group commented today when we were going through the groups and we were one of the last groups, we’re like “Wow, that went real quick.”

I feel like I got a lot of work in. You get done at a time when you can do extra work - lift some weights, do whatever - and still be out of here by 2 p.m. and still keep that rest going.

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