Original Nat Castilla debuts on Hall of Fame ballot

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has announced the 2012 Hall of Fame ballot, and an original National is among 13 candidates in their first year of eligibility.

Vinny Castilla, the third baseman on the club in 2005, makes his first appearance on the ballot, which includes two former American League batting champions, two former league RBI leaders and a former Rookie of the Year. There are 27 names on this year’s ballot, and candidates must receive 75 percent of the vote in order to join the game’s elite players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Despite decent numbers in a 16-year career - a .276 average with 320 home runs and 1,105 RBIs - Castilla will have trouble reaching that threshold. He might have difficulty reaching the 5 percent necessary to remain on the ballot, if only because of the presence of some of the holdovers.

Castilla, signed as a free agent in November 2004, played third base for the Nationals in their inaugural season in D.C., hitting .253 with 12 homers and 66 RBIs in 142 games, all but seven of them starts. He hit the team’s first home run at RFK Stadium, a two-run, sixth-inning shot off Arizona’s Javier Vazquez in a 5-3 victory on April 14, 2005. Castilla drove in more than 100 runs five times in his career.

The Nationals dealt Castilla and cash to San Diego for pitcher Brian Lawrence the following November, and Castilla’s career lasted only one more season, which he split between the Padres and Colorado Rockies. Castilla also played for Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Houston. The bulk of his career - parts of nine seasons over two tours of duty - was spent with the Rockies, and he drove in a National League-leading 131 runs in 2003 in the thin Rocky Mountains air.

Other newcomers to the ballot this year include longtime Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams, 2003 American League batting champ Bill Mueller, 1989 AL RBI leader Ruben Sierra and 1993 AL Rookie of the Year Tim Salmon. Notable holdovers include former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, who was on 62.1 percent of the ballots last year, and ex-Tigers and Twins pitcher Jack Morris, who was listed on 53.5 percent.

Two players whose careers were stained by steroids scandals - former Rangers and Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and slugging first baseman Mark McGwire of the A’s and Cardinals - remain on the ballot. Palmeiro was named on 11 percent of the ballots last year in his first year of eligibility, while McGwire, currently the hitting coach for the Cardinals, got up to 19.8 percent in his fifth year of eligibility. Players may remain on the ballot for up to 15 seasons, provided they appear on at least 5 percent of the ballots cast.

One interesting name with a connection to the Nationals’ predecessor in Montreal, outfielder Tim Raines, should be watched closely. Raines led the NL in stolen bases for four straight seasons while with the Expos, topped the loop in runs scored twice during his Montreal tenure and batted an NL-high .334 in 1986. He spent 13 of his 23 seasons - 1979-90 and 2001 - in an Expos uniform, and also played for the White Sox, Yankees, A’s, Orioles and Marlins. He is in his fifth year of eligibility.

Larkin also has a lot of support in Washington. He spent four seasons, 2005-08, as an assistant to the general manager with the Nats before leaving to become a studio analyst for the MLB Network. Larkin is in his third year of eligibility.