The Washington Nationals put a 2-year/$24M deal on the table for veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche early in the offseason between the 2012-13 campaigns and then waited.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo explained in an MLB Network Radio interview that winter why he was willing to wait and see if the then-33-year-old infielder would take the offer.
If the right deal was there, Rizzo said he was interested in getting a deal done.
"With that said, we also have options at that position," Rizzo told the show's hosts. "That's the one spot that we're fairly deep. We can shift Michael Morse there to his most comfortable defensive position where he plays defense very well. Not Adam LaRoche-caliber, but very well. We also have a young kid that's primarily a first baseman in Tyler Moore. We've got a left-handed bat in the farm system named [Matt] Skole [who] probably profiles as a left-handed power bat at first base. So we're very deep there, but we would like to get Adam under contract."
The Nationals signed LaRoche and traded Morse.
Skole, a then-23-year-old, 2011 5th Round pick out of Georgia Tech, was coming off a .291/.426/.559, 28 double, 27 HR season in which he played 129 games and made 524 plate appearances between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac. He was named the Nats' Minor League Player of the Year for the year. He went to the Arizona Fall League where he worked with then-D-Backs' coach Matt Williams in Williams' only managing gig before he was named the Nationals' fifth skipper this winter.
In 17 games in the AFL, Skole posted a .305/.419/.525 line with four doubles, three home runs, 14 walks and 18 Ks in 74 PAs. Baseball America named Skole the Best Power Hitter and the no.4 prospect in the organization, behind only 2012 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon amongst Nats' infield prospects.
In Spring Training before the 2013 season, Skole impressed now-former manager Davey Johnson, going 6 for 24 with two doubles, seven walks and eight Ks in 14 games before he was sent to minor league camp.
"Big swinging left-hander," Davey Johnson told MLB Network hosts Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy.
"Has got good hands at third base. He can play third and first. Showed me good command of the strike zone and he's got some pop and I like his approach, I like everything about him, make-up all the way down the line."
Two games into his 23-year-old season, however, Skole tore the UCL in his left (non-throwing) arm on a defensive play at first base on which he also suffered a fracture in his wrist.
"Throw into the runner and the runner took his elbow and popped his UCL," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C. hosts Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier last summer.
"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."
Skole returned to the field in time for a second run in the AFL this past winter, going 9 for 49 (.184/.375/.429) with a double, triple, three home runs, 15 walks and 18 Ks in 15 games.
Baseball America put Skole at no.4 again on their Top 10 Prospects list for 2014 and named him the Top Power Hitter in the organization for the second straight year.
"Good opposite field power," Matt Williams said this spring when he was asked about what he saw from Skole in Arizona and early this spring.
"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."
Skole was 5 for 14 with three doubles, a home run, two walks and eight Ks in nine Grapefruit League games this spring before he was reassigned to minor league camp.
Williams explained the decision when he spoke to reporters before the Nationals' Spring Training game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.
"I know Matty from the Fall League," Williams said. "Has the ability to play both corners in the infield. Certainly power. With all that happened to him last year I think he needs some consistent at bats. So that's why we made the move today. Get him some multiple at bats in a game and let him get his timing back a little bit. When you miss that amount of time it's difficult though, so it's a reason. He's going to play third and first and he'll be on his way."
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"He's battled it all spring because of the time off, but it's coming. Get him some consistent at bats and he'll be good."
NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman wrote on Sunday that Skole is likely going to start over again at Double-A.
Williams said he agreed with Mike Rizzo's assessment that Skole projects as a first baseman.
"I think that's where he is. But he's also pretty good at third and for a big guy he moves pretty well. So, he's done a nice job over there. I think he can play both, but I think it probably leans more towards first."
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Matt Williams on Ryan Zimmerman working at first base:
"He'll actually do some today [Sunday]. He's off today and so he is, post our BP, we'll take him over and continue that work. And we're taking our steps to get him in a ballgame."
"He'll get some reps over there during the course of our games here. We don't know yet. Don't exactly know. But we're taking those steps every time that we work with him over there. Again, he'll start playing more and more too, so on his days off, we try to get him at first to make sure that he's getting comfortable over there as well. So, time frame, I don't know yet."
Williams on Adam LaRoche so far this spring: "He's been pretty consistent. He's had to face some lefties and done well against lefties. He's hit a couple of homers. I don't think that is the end-all-be-all as far as his swing goes. I like when he hits the ball back through the middle, especially against left-handers. So, he's done that a couple of times, driven some balls to center field as well. So I think he's right on track. Generally it takes Adam a lot of at bats to get going so per our plan, as we get kind of toward the middle of the games here, we'll start sending him over to the minor leagues to get a bunch of at bats on a day that he's off so he's ready. But he's right on track. I like what I see."