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Bowden [Finally] Planning For Nationals' Future

[February 21st]-- Buried deep within one of the many "catch-all" stories coming out of Viera Florida this week was this tidbit: "Jim Bowden said top shortstop prospect Ian Desmond is slated to begin this season at Class AA Harrisburg, and his double-play partner is expected to be Kory Casto, whom the Nationals will move from third base to second base because the presence of 21-year-old third baseman Ryan Zimmerman blocks his path to the majors. Desmond, 20, is ranked fourth on Baseball America's list of the top 10 prospects in the Nationals organization, while Casto, 24, is ranked sixth. They spent last season in Class A.
"We'll have them play together, so they can come up together" through the farm system, Bowden said."

Although both shortstop Cristian Guzman and second baseman Jose Vidro have years left on multi-year contracts, neither are likely to fulfill those agreements in a Washington uniform. Guzman had a terrible season in 2005, and the only thing that kept him in the lineup was the unwillingness of the Nationals to eat the remaining three years of his contract. Guzman will be easier to move after this season when only two years remain on his deal. Jose Vidro has become fragile and missed significant time the past three seasons. Another long span on the disabled list will likely force the Nationals to consider other options at second.

Ian Desmond's future looks bright, but his flashes of brilliance have been just that; flashes. In 700 plus at-bats in the minors, he has a career .244 batting average with a .296 on-base percentage. He made a combined 39 errors playing for Savannah and Potomac, both class 'A' leagues, last year. Bowden, however, isn't concerned. "Ian Desmond has played at levels in the minors commensurate with what he will do, not what he has done so far. Every time he begins to improve at a particular level, we've promoted him. Certainly, his numbers at Savannah didn't warrant a ticket to Potomac, but we felt that once he wasn't over-powered by the pitching, it was time to move on." The errors don't bother him either. "They're mechanical, kid mistakes. Remember, he's only 20."

Some say he has Derek Jeter talent. Other's have compared his major league career upside to that of current National Royce Clayton. We'll just have to see.

Kory Casto is a different story. At 24, he has the experience and the maturity to play at a higher level. Last season, Casto batted .290-22-90 with a .394 OBP for the P-Nats. However, Casto's ascent through the team's farm system has been as slow as Desmond's has been fast. Coming out of the University of Portland, Casto has spent full-seasons with Vermont, Savannah and Potomac last year. If he spends 2006 at Harrisburg and '07 in New Orleans, he'll be a 26 year old rookie when he makes it to the Nationals. It'll help Casto greatly if he could end 2006 in New Orleans.

There is no question that Ian Desmond and Kory Casto are the team's middle-infield of the future. There isn't anyone else in the system, and short of bringing in a free agent, they, along with Larry Broadway and Ryan Zimmerman, could be part of an infield that stays together for years.

That said, what's the chance of four prospects all making good in the major leagues? It just doesn't happen often.

I just don't have your optimism for this quartet making it. Zimmerman is set, and I agree that Desmond is by default set to debut in '07 unless he collapses at the double A level.

Casto has a tougher road, being his age and Vidro still having years on a high-paying contract. He's got to hope for a trade of Vidro and a non-signing of Soriano, else he'll be just another old minor leaguer with good stats that the team jerks around.

At first we may just differ on opinion. I think Nick is a better hitter than Larry hands down, and if healthy would put up better numbers. I agree the Nats can't sign him long term, but assuming he has another 140+ game season, I'd rather they sign him for 2-3 more years then trade him for a middle of rotation starter and bring up Larry who could very well be overmatched in the majors. (if they are going to trade Nick, I'd like to see an established power-hitting first baseman come to DC)
Larry might get his chance (I do think Bowden would like to trade Nick) but I'm not enthused about it.
I'm all for giving Casto a shot at 2B but I think his best chance at the majors/helping the Nats is a return to the OF. He could be a serviceable #3/4 corner OF.
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