Matt Skole earned recognition as the Washington Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 with a strong season at Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac in which the then-23-year-old 2011 5th Round pick put up a combined .291/.426/.559 line with 28 doubles and 27 HRs in 119 games and 524 PAs.
Skole, a third baseman drafted out of Georgia Tech, ended his second pro season with a stint in the Arizona Fall League in which he worked with Matt Williams, who would eventually become the Nats' manager. Skole put up a .305/.419/.525 line with four doubles and three home runs in 17 games and 74 AFL PAs.
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked about Skole in an MLB Network Radio interview that winter as profiling as a "left-handed power bat at first base," who was part of the Nats' organizational depth at first which allowed them to deal Michael Morse. Skole was ranked the second-best infield prospect in the organization after the 2012 season by Baseball America, behind only Anthony Rendon. Both players started the 2013 campaign at Double-A Harrisburg, so Skole saw action at first base as well, where he suffered a torn UCL in his right (non-throwing) elbow on a defensive play.
"He got caught playing first base," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier. "Throw into the runner and the runner took his elbow and popped his UCL." Skole also suffered a wrist injury on the play, but the Nationals' GM was confident he would come back strong. "It was a shame because he had such a great Spring and he's got such a great future that he's going to have to waste a season," Rizzo said. "But our rehab guys and our medical staff will do a great job with him and we're looking for big things for him next season." Skole returned to competitive action in time for a second stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he was 9 for 49 (.184/.375/.429) with a double, triple, three home runs, 15 walks and 18 Ks in 15 games.
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"I like Skole," Matt Williams said when asked about the corner infielder this afternoon. "He had a tough break last year. Saw him a little bit in the Fall League this year. He had just come back. Those were his first at bats. So I anticipate he will look for his timing early this Spring, because he really hasn't played in a year, so it's going to be tough on him early."
Skole is working with the Nationals' hitting coach already this Spring. "Rick Schu's working with him now every day," Williams explained. "He'll get his timing back. Try to get him a lot of at bats in Spring and get his feet back underneath him. It's difficult when you lose that much time, but he'll be fine. He drives the ball the other way well. He can play both corner positions. I think he's got a bright future."
In fact, Williams told reporters, Skole reminds him of one of Williams' contemporaries from his playing days.
"Good opposite field power," he said. "Reminds me a little bit of [Jim] Thome. The way that Jim Thome used to hit the ball the other way so well. Skole does that good and then he takes the ahead-in-the-count-fastball or the breaking ball and drives it to his pull side, but stays on the baseball well."
Even after missing a season's worth of development and at bats, Baseball America had Skole ranked fourth overall as the top infielder in the organization. Will he start the season at Double-A? Triple-A?
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