VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals made their first round of cuts this morning, sending infielder Matt Skole, catcher Jeff Howell, right-hander Gabriel Alfaro and left-hander Tyler Robertson to minor league camp.
Update: Just before first pitch here today, the Nats announced two more players have been sent to minor league camp - infielder Josh Johnson and catcher Brian Jeroloman.
Johnson is recovering from surgery on his left wrist to remove a broken hamate bone. He said today he's been taking one-handed swings recently, but is still at least a couple weeks away from returning to game action. Jeroloman, as I had previously written below, is still dealing with post-concussion symptoms stemming from a home plate collision last fall.
The cuts leave the Nats with 57 players still here in big league camp, not including right-hander Erik Davis, who is on the 60-day disabled list.
Skole is the biggest name among the four players cut today. The 24-year-old, listed as the Nats' fourth-best prospect by Baseball America, went 5-for-14 in nine games played this spring, with three doubles, a homer and five RBIs.
Coming back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow after a freak injury early last season, Skole impressed manager Matt Williams and the Nats' talent evaluators this spring.
"I know Matty from the (Arizona) Fall League, and again, the ability to play both corners in the infield and certainly power (is impressive)," Williams said. "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 bit. When you miss that amount of time, it's difficult, though. That's the reason. He's going to play third and first. He'll be on his way."
Skole was drafted as a third baseman, but he started getting some playing time at first base last year before his injury. He projects more as a first baseman long-term, according to scouts.
"I think that's where he is, but he's also pretty good at third," Williams said. "For a big guy, he moves pretty well. He's done a nice job over there. I think he can play both, but I think it probably leans more towards first."
Williams also discussed the decision to send down Robertson (two scoreless innings), Alfaro (one run allowed in two innings), and Howell (0-for-2 with a strikeout).
"It's hard to find them innings at this point, because guys are getting deeper into games," Williams said of the two relievers. "Again, we want to continue to build their arm strength, so if they're getting one inning every four days, it's just not fair to them. So that's the objective for them, is to make sure they get consistent reps on the mound and get their innings and prepare themselves.
"Howie, he's kind of in the same boat. Just kind of finding at-bats and finding playing time is difficult right now."
Asked about Jeroloman, who was supposed to be in big league camp this spring, Williams said he is still dealing with post-concussion symptoms stemming from the home plate collision he was involved in during the Eastern League playoffs last year.
Jeroloman re-signed with the Nats as a minor league free agent this offseason and was extended an invitation to big league camp. He has been receiving treatment at the Nats' facility, Williams says, but the team won't be rushing the 28-year-old back given the nature of his injury.
"That's a touchy one because you don't want to put him in a situation where he could get hurt or have any issues out there," Williams said.