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Will Bernie Castro Ever Get The Chance To Play Everyday?

[January 8th] -- The Senators had a player in the late 1960's by the name of Brant Alyea. He never got the opportunity to play much, but when he did, he was "lights-out." Combining his 1969 and 1970 seasons, Alyea amassed 495 at-bats, hitting .271-27-101 with a .360 on-base percent and a .455 slugging average. He was young (28 in 1969) and could play both left-field and first base. It was that way his entire career. What might he have accomplished if only given a chance.

I look at the Nationals' Bernie Castro, and think the same thing. If he's only given an opportunity.

The Nats acquired Castro this off season from the Baltimore Orioles, signing him as a six-year minor league free agent for the second time in his career. Just days after signing him, the Nationals acquired infielders Damian Jackson and Marlon Anderson, and later traded for second-baseman Alfonso Soriano (though he is supposed to play in the outfield), dimming Castro's chances of making the big club.

Since signing with the Yankees in 1997, Castro has been part of several organizations. Why? He'll be only 24 when he reports to Vierra next month, so he's not an "organizational" player who's only keeping a roster spot warm for the next guy. He's not only produced well offensively, but has shown a solid game with few holes. His minor league career has been a history of remarkable consistency. Take a look at his average year in the minors based on 140 games per season: AB:533 -- R:80 -- H:153 -- 2B:20 -- 3B:5 -- HR:1 -- RBI:40 -- SB:59 -- OBP:.360 -- SLG:.350. Castro's minor league career reflects a player who would be an ideal leadoff hitter, a player the Nationals are sorely lacking. But minor league success doesn't always equal major league ability. Or does it. Castro played 24 games for the Orioles last season. Look at how these numbers would look stretched out over an entire major league season: AB: 534 -- R:93 -- H:154 -- 2B:20 -- 3B:5 -- HR:0 -- RBI:46 -- SB:41 -- OBP:.360 -- SLG:352. His major league and minor league numbers are virtually identical. He played in the Dominican League the past two months, and dominated, hitting .325-0-17 with 15 stolen bases.

He's proven that he doesn't need any more "seasoning" in the minors, but hasn't yet been given the opportunity to play in the majors. Sure, Castro wasn't going to beat out the Orioles' Brian Roberts (.314-18-73), but you'd think they could have traded him and received something in return.

The record on his defense is sketchy, but positive. He's a switch hitter, giving him the ability to hit both lefties and righties alike. He can even play in the outfield in a pinch. Yet, he's probably sixth on the team's depth chart at second base, making the chance of his playing at New Orleans in 2006 very likely. He signed a one-year contract, meaning a return to the minor leagues means he'll sign somewhere else next season.

Infielder Brendan Harris spent the year hitting everywhere he played too, and deserves the chance to make the big club along with Castro. He hit .270-13-81 at 'AAA' New Orleans, .333-1-3 with the Nationals, .376-1-13 as a member of the elite Arizona Instructional League, and .500-1-3 for Team United States.

Jose Vidro, although still hobbled by a gimpy knee, can be packaged with another player to bring a solid starting pitcher, opening up both second base and the leadoff spot for Castro. Sure, there is a chance that Castro will fall flat on his face, but his numbers, both at the minor and major league level, are similar to phenom-prospect Ryan Zimmerman, and no one seems concerned that the third baseman won't succeed in 2006. That's why it's important to have both Castro and Harris on the team. There is a chance that Castro could fall flat on his face in 2006, and there's also a chance that Brendan Harris could fall flat on his face, but the chance is great that one of them would do well in Washington next season.

The Nationals need speed and a leadoff hitter with a good on-base percentage. They want someone young who might stay with the team for several years. They need someone cheap. They'd love to move Jose Vidro's huge (for the Nationals) salary. Bernie Castro is the answer. And the great thing is, he comes with a spare tire in case he goes flat in the name of Brendan Harris.

It's time to show the barren farm system has a little life in it. And if Castro becomes a solid major leaguer, it would just tick off Peter Angelos and the Orioles to no end. If nothing else, making Angelos mad makes this whole proposition worthwhile.

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