Oct. 11, 2006
The Washington Nationals named outfielder and former Portland Pilot Kory Casto as the team's Minor League Player of the Year for the second straight year. Officials with the team say Casto, who spent three years on The Bluff (2001-03), has a legitimate shot to play in the big leagues next year.
After hitting .290 with 22 home runs and 90 RBI's for Class A Potomac (Va.) last year, Casto played for Double-A Harrisburg (Pa.) this season and hit .272 with 20 home runs and 80 RBI's. Even more impressive was that Casto made the switch from third base to left field, his original position, and didn't miss a beat, according to assistant general manager Bob Boone.
"I like his bat, his character and his defense," Boone said. "He is a very superior left fielder."
The Nationals were prepared to bring up Casto to the big leagues had they traded Alfonso Soriano before the trade deadline last season, but Soriano remained with the club, while Casto played a full season with Harrisburg.
What are the chances of Casto being in the big leagues in 2007? It will depend on whether or not the Nationals keep Soriano, who is a free agent after the season. If Soriano signs with another team, look for Casto to be one of the leading candidates to take over left field.
"All we can do is give him a shot," Boone said. "Certainly, his plate coverage and his recognition of pitches are really superior. He will not chase pitches."
Casto is one of several former Pilots who enjoyed success throughout Minor League Baseball this season. Relief pitcher Eric Hull (2001-02) spent 2006 with the AAA Las Vegas 51's, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hull started the season on fire coming out of the bullpen. He ended the season with a 2-4 record and two saves in 44 appearances. In 73.0 innings, Hull struck out 78 and posted a 4.19 earned run average, while holding opposing hitters to a .207 batting average.
After spending one season on the hill for the Pilots, right-handed pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx (2006) is making an immediate impact in the Seattle Mariners' organization. Dirkx pitched for three different teams this summer, including a brief stop with the AAA Tacoma Rainiers. He made three appearances with Class A Everett, picking up a save and allowing just one hit with six strikeouts and one walk in 4.0 scoreless innings. Tacoma called him up in an emergency situation with a short-handed bullpen. In his lone appearance with the Rainiers, Dirkx didn't allow a run on two hits, while striking out five in 2.0 innings of work.
Dirkx spent the rest of the season with the Single-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and finished with a 2-2 record, five saves and a 1.95 ERA. He held opposing hitters to a .200 average and struck out 38, while only walking seven in 32.1 innings.
Pitcher Joe Jones (2003-06), who ended his Pilot career on a tear last spring, continued his success in the minors. Jones first took the hill for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors, the Rookie League affiliate of the L.A. Dodgers. In 10 appearances for Utah, Jones posted a 1-0 record. In 15.0 innings, he struck out 12 and walked only one. After getting called up to the Class A Columbus (Ga.) Catfish, Jones was 2-2 with a 2.68 ERA. He made nine appearances and six starts and held opposing batters to a .200 average. He struck out 22 in 40.1 innings.
Third baseman Travis Hanson (2000-02), the St. Louis Cardinals' 2005 Minor League Player of the Year, split his time between the AA Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals and AAA Memphis Redbirds. Hanson combined to hit .223 this summer with three home runs and 38 RBI's. In 137 career games with Springfield, Hanson has a .284 batting average, 20 home runs, 29 doubles and 97 RBI's.
Outfielder and former infielder Travis Vetters (2003-06), spent the summer in Florida, after wrapping up his UP career last spring. In 14 games with the Gulf Coast Dodgers, the Rookie League affiliate of the L.A Dodgers, Vetters knocked in a run on six hits, while scoring twice. He also swiped two bases.