Notes: Casto eyeing return to form

Notes: Casto eyeing return to form

VIERA, Fla. -- A year ago, outfielder Kory Casto was the Nationals' top prospect after winning the team's Minor League Player of the Year Awards in 2005 and '06. Those award-winning years helped Casto get an invitation to Spring Training last season.

Casto stayed with team until the last exhibition game against the Orioles and left a good impression on the club. Not only did he hit for average, he proved to be versatile by playing third and first base.

Casto started the season with Triple-A Columbus, but he didn't stay long. He was recalled to the big leagues before the second game of the regular season because of an injury to center fielder Nook Logan. But shockingly, Casto struggled. He stopped pulling the ball and wasn't a patient hitter, going 7-for-39 (.179) in his first stint with the Nationals. He later went hitless in 15 at-bats in his second stint.

The poor showing carried over at Columbus, where he hit .246 with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs.

"Last year, I was trying to do too much and got out of what I do," Casto said. "Once you get out of your game plan, you start swinging pitches you don't normally swing at. Once you do too much, your bat gets slow and obviously you are going to be late on everything."

One thing he figured out while playing in the Arizona Fall League this offseason was to learn to trust his own instincts a lot more. Listening to too much advice had him confused.

"I got too dependent on other people instead of using my abilities and my knowledge of my swing," Casto said. "I was relying on other people to see things. When that didn't happen, I was not able to fix it."

The Nationals have a lot of outfielders in camp this year, and Casto realizes that he is a long shot to make the 25-man roster.

"It's understandable. I didn't do anything to warrant or deserve to automatically be somewhere. [If I go to Columbus], I'm going to go down there and re-prove myself in Triple-A," he said.

Spring Training
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Trying to stay healthy: No one has questioned Alex Escobar's talents as a big leaguer, but he has had a tough time staying on the field because of shoulder, foot and ankle injuries.

In his three years with the Nationals, Escobar has played in only 33 games -- all in 2006. In those games, Escobar hit .356 (31-for-87) with four home runs and 18 RBIs. He missed the entire 2007 season because of shoulder and ankle injuries.

This year, Escobar, a Spring Training invitee, is determined to show the Nationals he is healthy. On Thursday, he was hitting in the batting cage, and he said that his ankle and shoulder are in good shape. A healthy Escobar could be a big boost for the Nationals, who could use some power off the bench.

"I feel pretty good," Escobar said. "I worked hard the whole winter; I stayed on top of my program. I worked hard with my ankle and it's back. I don't feel any problems and I have been shagging fly balls. I'm running 100 percent everyday. Nothing is bothering me."

Stat of the day: The Nationals committed 109 errors in 2007. That's 16.8 percent less than 2006, when they committed 130.

Did you know? The Nationals are 225-261 in three seasons.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.