"It's a very exciting time to be a Nats fan."
In rebuilding the Washington Nationals, the president of the team, Stan Kasten has a significant challenge ahead of him. We recently caught up with Washington's head man for a Q&A session. (Free Preview!)
CapitolDugout: What did you know about the state of the organization, specifically the minor leagues, when your ownership group was announced as the group selected by Commissioner Selig?
Stan Kasten: We knew there was a need to shift from a team just maintaining, and being prepped for sale, to one requiring a long-term building effort and plan. We had an idea, but didn't fully know the extent of the lack of prospects in the minor leagues.
CapitolDugout: With Major League Baseball no longer owning the Nationals, what do you and the Lerner family look to do to improve upon the state of the minor leagues, and how can this be done without alienating the major league fan base?
Stan Kasten: We have completely revamped the scouting and player development staff and structure and direction. And, we have tried to be as open and honest about this with our fans as we possibly can.
CapitolDugout: With an announced plan of international scouting, when can Nationals' fans expect to see signings from areas other than the Caribbean and South America, such as the Pacific Rim?
Stan Kasten: We have already stepped up Caribbean scouting and signings. The Pacific Rim will take a little longer, but we are working on it constantly.
CapitolDugout: In the upcoming 2007 amateur draft, will the Nationals' have a "game plan" or a strategy when it comes to drafting either college or high school players, and what will it be?
Stan Kasten: Yes, but that will continue to be kept private.
CapitolDugout: During the Rule Five draft last December, the Nationals picked up an unusually large number of players. How do you think the organization can further utilize the Rule Five draft?
Stan Kasten: In our case, with a greater than average need for players we felt we could afford to gamble by carrying players who weren't quite ready for the Majors. If we wind up retaining either Jesus Flores or Levale Speigner for the long-haul, it will have been a gamble that paid off quite well.
CapitolDugout: With the 2006 amateur draft the first under new ownership, the Nationals seemed to be able to select players without having to worry about draft bonuses as much as they had in the past. Do the Nationals plan on going over-slot with bonuses again this year and is doing so necessary?
Stan Kasten: We will and we won't. We have gone over-slot when we thought it was right, but we won't just to be able to sign every player. In advance we factor in a certain number of drafted players that we won't sign. We do not expect or need to sign all of our picks, even our top picks. This year in particular, there may be more non-signings than ever before, because of the new rule awarding same slot compensation for unsigned first rounders.
CapitolDugout: Some of those players selected in the 2006 draft are starting this year at new Single-A affiliate in Hagerstown. With this affiliate being so close to many Nationals' fans, what can they expect to see there this year from players such as Chris Marrero and Stephen King?
Stan Kasten: Marrero and King have shown they both have big-league potential and we're also starting to see that on our other levels, particularly in extended spring training.
CapitolDugout: During Spring Training it was initially said that Dominican Shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez would in fact start the year at Hagerstown and shortstop Stephen King would make the position switch to third base. With Gonzalez in fact not starting the year in Hagerstown, and King staying at shortstop, is there a plan to change the position of King sometime in the future at all?
Stan Kasten: No set plans. Each player develops at his own pace and we have to be flexible to ensure the maximum production out of everyone.
CapitolDugout: Speaking of position changes, how is it decided within an organization if a player will make that change, and how often do you find it a player will be asked to make a position change because of their visible talent, but they are blocked at a higher level (possibly the major leagues) by another quality player at that position?
Stan Kasten: Position changes are usually determined by a player's particular skills, as we see them after being with us for a while. Occasionally they're made because of position conflicts but that's usually closer to the major leagues.
CapitolDugout: Fairly recently, many baseball operations people in the front office were dismissed and promptly replaced. Can you tell us why this was done?
Stan Kasten: It's no secret that much needed to be changed here. We wish all former employees well. However, I can state unequivocally that every current employee in all departments has upgraded the franchise.
CapitolDugout: On the topic of the front office, last season Mike Rizzo was hired by the Nationals. He is known as the man who built the Diamondbacks' farm system, which is considered by many to be one of the best. What will his responsibilities be in Washington, and can we expect similar results?
Stan Kasten: Mike is working for Jim Bowden, and closely advising him on player personnel. Naturally, this time of year he's concentrating primarily on the upcoming draft.
CapitolDugout: What will Washington's philosophy be going into the new ballpark next year and trying to attract more fans to the ballpark, while still rebuilding the farm system?
Stan Kasten: The development philosophy won't change, though we'll have more resources, and my hope is that we will be able to start dedicating more of those resources to additions at the major league level. The biggest difference will be the overall fan experience which will be nothing like is currently available at RFK.
CapitolDugout: What can Nationals' fans look forward to in the future coming out of the farm system and onto the major league level?
Stan Kasten: Hopefully, within a year or two, we can expect a string of real contributing rookies every year.
CapitolDugout: Last season players such as Marlon Anderson, Daryle Ward, Mike Stanton, and Livan Hernandez were traded for pitching prospects. Is there always the possibility of more such trades to improve the farm system?
Stan Kasten: I'm sure it's possible. The pursuit of prospects, especially pitchers, never ends.
CapitolDugout: With so much different now since the Lerner family has taken over, what do you personally think still needs to be done within the organization and how long do you think it would take to do it?
Stan Kasten: There's obviously plenty of things to do: building a team, a front office, a whole new sales apparatus for inventory which didn't exist at RFK. And, of course, building a stadium and a much larger staff to operate it. It's getting done, but we still have a ways to go.
CapitolDugout: For our last question, summing it up here, is there a bright future for the Nationals and their fans on the horizon, and can you give us an idea when you believe when the turnaround might be?
Stan Kasten: I think there's an extremely bright future. It's the only reason I came here, because our upside is so great, and with the support of a very committed ownership, we are going to get there sooner than many think. It's a very exciting time to be with the Nats or to be a Nats fan.