Nationals prospect Matt Skole is enjoying his opportunity to play for Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League and is anxious to get back on the field after “tweaking” his hamstring last Saturday.
“I just tweaked it a little bit,” Skole said. “They gave me this week off. I am going to play (today). I think they are being overcautious. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Those guys took care of me.”
Skole is a third baseman by trade. For low Single-A Hagerstown and high Single-A Potomac this season, he hit .291 with 27 homers and 104 RBIs, earning the franchise’s coveted Minor League Player of the Year honors.
But with Anthony Rendon playing third base, Skole is relishing his chance to play first base exclusively for the Rafters.
Each franchise with players in Arizona designates one of the players as the “priority player” when the AFL begins. This means that player (Rendon for the Nationals) plays third base while with the Arizona team and does not move around to play different positions, except designated hitter.
“I like it. Obviously, you want to do whatever you can to advance through the system and be where you want to be ultimately. I feel comfortable over there,” Skole said. “I have played 10 or so games over there. I actually feel real good. It is a nice little tool that I can add to my collection.”
He admitted to not having that much experience at first base, but has been able to pick it up quickly.
“Every now and then, I played it,” Skole said. “I haven’t played first in pro ball. Probably two or three innings in college and some in high school summer ball. Not a lot, but it feels comfortable.”
Doug Harris, the Nationals’ director of player development, said having Skole play first base is not a permanent position change, but adds “versatility internally within the organization and versatility is always a good thing.”
Skole is to first to understand how being able to play so many positions will help him move up with such a lethal bat.
“For me, definitely,” he said. “My goal is to make it to D.C. and I think right now playing first base gives me the best opportunity to do that.”
So, have the Nationals told him to expect to play a lot of first base next season?
“They haven’t talked about next year,” he said.
It is obvious the Nationals are looking for another power bat at the position within their system, evidenced with the work Kevin Keyes got at first base during instructional league. Keyes had played outfield almost exclusively in the Nationals system, and hit 21 homers this season.
Skole said he also is keeping pace with the better pitching he is facing in Arizona.
“It is challenging,” Skole said. “It is really fun knowing that you are playing the cream of the crop, the best guys. It is definitely a lot more advanced than I am used to because most of these pitchers are guys from Double-A. I only got to Potomac for a few weeks. I enjoy competition. I really enjoy going against the best guys.”
Skole is batting .342 in 11 games in Arizona, with three doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and an OPS of 1.047. Impressive numbers all around, so he is excited to get back on the field after missing a week with the sore hamstring.
“I got off to a quick start,” Skole said. “Then I hit a little rough patch. But it is basically the same thing. You just have to try to stay consistent and make adjustments every day. I am definitely becoming a better ball player by playing out here.”
More from Skole later this weekend on his manager, Matt Williams, and how his teammates are doing in Arizona.