June 30, 2010
By David Driver
For the Statesman Journal
Used with permission
Kory Casto said he was about 30 minutes from finalizing a deal in May to play for the St. Paul Saints, a team in the independent American Association whose ownership group includes comedian/actor Bill Murray.
But it was no laughing matter for Casto, the Salem native who was released by the Detroit Tigers in early April.
"Good luck finding a job," Casto, 28, said of being let go late in spring training. "If I was not in their plans why keep me around for an extra two weeks? It was a tough situation."
Casto, a North Marion High School graduate, had never played for an independent league team in his pro career. Before heading to St. Paul, he got a call from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who signed Casto on May 14 and assigned him to Class AA Mobile (Alabama) of the Southern League.
After a slow start at the plate, Casto has started to heat up while batting third in the order and playing third base for Mobile.
"The big thing is to find a rhythm and slow it down a little bit," he said of being away from the game. "When you have not played (for weeks), everything seems so quick. Be easy and take it slow."
Casto, who returned to Oregon for a few weeks to keep in shape before he was picked up by Arizona, is hitting .222 with three homers and 14 RBIs.
"He has been a pleasant shot in the arm since he joined our Mobile team," said Mike Berger, the director of player development for the Diamondbacks.
"He plays above average defense. He is a steady influence on this club. He has found a home at third. He is a quality guy to have. He has done everything we have asked of him up to this point. He does have that major league experience under his belt. The bat has come around. I have no complaints. We are happy with him."
Berger, a former scout,remembers seeing Casto play in 2004 in the low Class A South Atlantic League in Savannah, Ga., when Casto was in the Nationals' organization.
Although Berger is glad to have his experience at Class AA, that does not mean Casto could not earn a promotion to Class AAA Reno in the Pacific Coast League. "Performance dictates that. He is no different: we like to get them moving," Berger said.
Casto was picked up by the Tigers as a free agent before the 2010 season after spending his entire career in the Montreal/Washington organization.
He was told of his release in April by the Tigers from Glenn Ezell, the long-time director of player development.
Casto did not see a lot of playing time in spring training with the Tigers at the major- or minor-league level, and told his agent he thought he was going to be released. He was right.
Casto admitted that he thought his baseball career might be coming to an end.
"I didn't know if I was going to play again," he said. "I will give it one more shot. If not, I will turn the page and move on to something else. If that happens, I will go."
Casto, who turned pro in 2003, spent part of the 2007 and 2008 seasons in the majors with the Nationals. Last year he spent all season at Class AAA Syracuse, the top farm team of the Nationals. He hit .271 with eight homers and 58 RBIs in 447 at-bats.
"It is tough being in the situation I am in," said Casto, who said many teams want to save money by using younger players at the Triple-A level.
"I thought I had a pretty decent year last year in Triple-A. If I (had gone) to indy ball, it would be for 45 or 60 days to see if I can find a spot with an affiliated team."
Casto said he is about 30 credits shy of a degree in communications from the University of Portland, where he starred for the Pilots before he was drafted by Montreal/Washington in 2003. He said he has no desire to be a minor league coach but would welcome the chance to coach baseball at the college or high school level.
"I found a lot of people that were willing to help" if my career is over, said Casto, whose wife and child remain in Oregon while he plays for Mobile.
Casto is living with Mobile teammates in an apartment. It is his first experience in the deep South since playing in Georgia in 2004.
"It is hot here. We played at noon today and the heat index was 107," Casto said after a recent game in which he hit a homer.
The Mobile manager is Rico Brogna, who played in the big leagues for the Phillies, Mets, Braves, Red Sox and Tigers from 1992 to 2001.
The hitting coach is Turner Ward, who played in the majors for the Pirates, Brewers, Blue Jays, Indians and Diamondbacks.
"The whole staff here is excellent," Casto said. "Turner has been around the game a lot. They understand what it takes to get to that highest level. There is an understanding there that some guys don't have."
Casto said he keeps in touch with some of the Nationals, including Garrett Mock and Willie Harris. He said it was hard to ignore the hype around Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who struck out 14 batters in his big league debut June 8 as the Nats beat the Pirates, 5-2, at Nationals Park.
"It was all over SportsCenter. I saw it 75 times. I feel bad for the guy. He just happens to throw 100," Casto said. "The fan base is there though. It is a beautiful ballpark."
His days in Washington may be over, but Casto has no regrets.
"I had my day in the sun," he said.