Friday, July 6, 2007

Kory Casto has progressed through the Washington Nationals’ farm system with great success, earning a reputation as a patient hitter with power.

After Casto’s first look at big league pitching this season, he learned he still had some work to do.

“I am trying to make some adjustments and change some things in my swing. It is a little bit frustrating not to have success right away,” Casto said. “[I am] just shortening up a little bit and shortening my load — kind of simplifying things a little bit. I think when I was up there I was trying to do too much with everything and got into some bad habits, and I am trying to fix them now.”

Casto was named the organization’s player of the year in 2005 after hitting .290 with 22 home runs and 90 RBI at Class A Potomac, establishing himself as one of Washington’s top prospects. Last year he was the system’s player of the year again as he had 20 homers and 80 RBI at Class AA Harrisburg while finishing his second straight season with at least 80 walks.

When Casto made his major league debut this spring, pitchers often used his patience against him. In two brief stints with the Nationals, he hit only .130 (7-for-54) and struck out 17 times, often because he worked himself into poor hitting counts.

“When you go up there you have to jump on the fastball early and prove to people that you are going to hit it so that they have to make some adjustments to you,” Casto said. “If you don’t hit that fastball early they are just going to keep pumping it in there and getting ahead of you.”

Added Class AAA Columbus manager John Stearns: “He’s patient to a fault. He’s taking too many [pitches], working too much count. A guy who can swing the bat like him, look for his pitch early in the count, and if he gets it, drive it off the wall or hit a home run. Sometimes he doesn’t do that, but he’s still learning.”

Casto is trying to work through his issues at the plate with Stearns and hitting coach Charles “Boots” Day at Columbus. The first couple of months of this season were a bit of a whirlwind for Casto. He went to spring training to compete for the opening in left field but was the last player cut before the team broke camp.

Two days later, before Casto had played a game with Columbus, Nook Logan injured his hamstring and the Nationals called him up. After a couple of weeks, he was sent back to Class AAA for 10 games before being recalled again.

He came back to the Clippers in mid-May, and the immediate results while working through his swing changes were not what he wanted. After hitting .324 with four homers in the 10 games in his first taste of Class AAA, he finished May in a 9-for-50 funk.

“I think he is just battling through some things. He got into some habits in the big leagues,” assistant general manager Bob Boone said. “You get thrown in there, and maybe your mechanics aren’t as sound, and you get into some habits. Then there is a trust problem. It is a battle. It’s a war you go through, and I think Kory is in the middle of that.”

A slightly better June (.279 with two homers) has helped Casto’s overall numbers and showed some progress has been made. His season totals (.257, eight homers, 29 RBI) aren’t great, but Casto has been a streaky hitter in the past, and one hot month would remedy them.

He hasn’t completely lost his patient approach (34 walks in 206 at-bats). The split between his production when he is ahead in the count (a 1.085 OPS) compared to behind (.577) is pretty dramatic but has improved recently.

Even if Casto’s status as a prospect took a hit, he was not the first person to fail in his first exposure to major league pitching. Where he fits in the organization’s long-term plans remains a work in progress, much like his approach at the plate.

“We’re looking at everybody. We have needs everywhere. It’s not who have we been waiting for; it is who is doing the best,” Boone said. “Players tell you what they are. It has nothing to do with organizations saying, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be our left fielder or this guy is going to be our shortstop.’ It is about them going out and doing it.

“It has nothing to do with anyone saying ‘Oh, Kory’s going to be our left fielder of the future.’ It is not about making those expectations. His position or stock hasn’t diminished or risen.”

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