March 9, 2009
By David Driver
For the Statesman Journal
Used with permission
VIERA, Fla. — Jed Lowrie of the Boston Red Sox is aiming for a starting position with a World Series contender.
Kory Casto of the Washington Nationals is trying to make the roster of a team that lost 102 games last season and recently had its general manager resign.
Those are the circumstances in Florida this spring training for Lowrie and Casto, a pair of Salem-area products who made their major league debuts in 2008 and 2007, respectively. Lowrie is an infielder who can play short, third and second, and Casto can play first, third and in the outfield.
"So far, things have been going good," Lowrie said recently before starting at third base and batting second for the Red Sox against the host Orioles at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.
"Hopefully as the spring goes along I can put together some good at-bats and make the spring a jump-start for the season."
Last season Lowrie, a North Salem High graduate and Stanford University product, hit .258 with two homers, 25 doubles and 46 RBIs in 260 at-bats for the Red Sox.
He also hit .268 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 198 at bats for Class AAA Pawtucket of the International League. Now he is trying to make the Red Sox out of spring training.
"I guess that is the next step," said Lowrie, a switch-hitter who turns 25 in April. "I have a good idea what happens here. I have to continue to stay focused and do my job."
Does he feel he has a shot at starting at shortstop for Boston?
"I think it is too early to tell," he said. Boston manager Terry Francona noted Lowrie is not the only Red Sox player who can play more than one position.
"Every camp is going to have a guy that is versatile," Francona said before the Orioles exhibition game.
"We seem to have four or five guys that are versatile. It will probably shape up to be pretty interesting" to see who makes the Opening Day roster.
"For so many guys (trying to make the team) this is the regular season," Francona added. "But to get two hits in Fort Myers (home of the Red Sox) is not the end all, be all."
In 16 at-bats this spring, Lowrie has six hits, including two doubles and one triple, and has scored two runs and has four RBIs.
"It's early," Francona said of Lowrie. "But he looks more confident in his path to the ball."
Casto, 27, who was drafted by the Expos/Nationals organization, said he would have to pass waivers if he did not make the Major League roster and Washington wanted to send him to the minor leagues in early April.
The former University of Portland standout from North Marion High school, who bats left-handed, said if would be disappointing to leave the only organization he has every played with during his pro career.
"Obviously the organization you have been with your whole life you would like to stay with," he said. "I would like to stay here. Obviously I have a lot of friends on the team and my wife has a lot of friends here."
He hit .218 (but just .048 against lefties) last year for the Nationals with two homers and 16 RBIs in 163 at bats. Casto also hit .308 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 130 at bats with Class AAA Columbus of the International League in 2008.
But he said leaving the Nationals, who have added outfielders Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham since the end of last season, could aid his career.
"It could definitely be a good thing," said Casto, sitting in the Nationals clubhouse before a spring training game against the Orioles. "But I would like to stay here. My wife has made friends in Washington."
Casto spoke just hours after Jim Bowden, the Washington senior vice president and general manager, announced his resignation after a tenure that lasted about five years.
Bowden, according to published reports, is under investigation by Major League Baseball for questionable signing practices of young players from Latin America.
"My resignation is based upon my realization that my ability to properly represent the Washington Nationals has been compromised because of false allegations contained in the press," Bowden said in a statement.
Casto said Bowden's resignation was not talked about very much by the players.
"For the most part guys have looked past that stuff. You don't hear too many guys talking about it," Casto said. "That is the business side of it and we are here to play the game. We don't know all of the circumstances surrounding everything. We just listen and get the information and go about our business."
Casto reported early to spring training.
In nine at-bats this spring, Casto has two hits, including a double, and has three walks and two runs scored.
"So far things have been going pretty well. I came here in early February to get a jump start on things and be ready to go," he said. "Hopefully as the spring goes along I can put together some good at bats and make this spring a jumpstart for the season."
Casto hopes that his ability to play several positions will aid his cause, whether he stays with the Nationals or is picked up by another club at the end of spring training.
"The versatility comes in big at this point. I play four positions. As the spring goes along hopefully one of those spots will open up," Casto said.
The same also holds true for Lowrie, who seems to have a much better chance of starting the season in the Majors with his current team. "With my versatility I bring an element to the team that I can help win at more than one position," Lowrie said.