Matt Skole drawing attention in Nationals camp

brushback_harperAsked recently which of the young players in Nationals camp has drawn his eye, Manager Davey Johnson highlighted infield prospect Matt Skole, among others. Skole already caught the attention of some of his teammates, notably Jordan Zimmermann who called him “a large animal” after the big left-hander hammered one of his fastballs over the fence during live batting practice more than two weeks ago.

Skole, a 2011 fifth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, is the Nationals’ reigning minor league player of the year, a distinction he earned for a torrid-hitting campaign in Class Hagerstown and Potomac. He led all Nationals minor leaguers with 27 home runs, slugged .559 and posted an OPS of .986. It earned him an invitation to major league camp and, so far, the Nationals have been pleased with his ability. They have played him near-daily, put him at first and third base and let him face a bunch of left-handed pitchers.

With Adam LaRoche entrenched at first base and Ryan Zimmerman at third, and their backups Tyler Moore and Chad Tracy are established, Skole has no shot to make the major league roster. He is headed back to minor league camp later this month but soaking as much of the experience as he can.

“It’s been fun for the most part, really, for me,” Skole said. “I’m just enjoying every minute of it. I’m just like learning a lot from all these guys, all these vets who’ve been up in the league for a while. I’m trying to just stay here as long as I can and learn as much as I can, pretty much keep my mouth shut and my ears open.”

In 13 spring games, Skole is hitting .250/.407/.350 with two doubles and four RBI. His approach at the plate has impressed Johnson. Skole is 6 feet 4, 230 pounds with power but has shown the ability to work pitchers. His experience playing the Arizona Fall League last year gave him a glimpse of the better competition he has would face this spring and will likely see next season in Class AA Harrisburg.

What has been surprising to see with Skole in person is his quick reactions. On Sunday, he made a diving catch of a liner while playing first base. And, recently, he charged a ball near the plate while playing third base and quickly threw to first. The runner was safe, but Skole moved more nimbly than his big frame would suggest. One rival scout that saw Skole play in the fall league suggested he was still a work in progress at third base, but the Nationals believe he has the ability to still play the position. They will, however, plan to play him at first base next season in the minors for the first time, and at third. He certainly has enough power to stay at first, a position which could be freed by LaRoche as soon as two seasons from now.

Asked which position he is most comfortable playing, Skole admitted he feels fine at both. “I’ve been taking reps at first and third like everyday during BP, you’ll see me take ground balls at third and first. I’m just trying to get comfortable. If I can play both, that helps me out in the long run and in the future.”

FROM THE POST

Adam LaRoche’s last name should be Garcia and is of Mexican descent? Christian Garcia was asked by Spain to play in the WBC? Danny Espinosa played for the U.S. before but had originally accepted Mexico’s offer? On the World Baseball Classic and the multiple identities of Nationals players.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Stephen Strasburg working to hold runners on base

Cuts looming, Davey Johnson to align the bullpen soon

Braves at Nationals live updates

Braves GM Frank Wren on building with opponents in mind 

Roger Bernadina OK after hit by pitch, won’t start for the Netherlands

TODAY’S GAME (Read: WBC UPDATE)

The Nationals are off Tuesday but return on Wednesday with a split squad game against the Mets in Viera and Astros in Kissimmee. Jordan Zimmermann will start the game at home and Ross Ohlendorf will take the mound on the road.

Gio Gonzalez will start Tuesday for Team USA in Miami against Puerto Rico in the first game of the second round of the WBC. Ross Detwiler would next be available to throw on Thursday for Team USA. The Netherlands advanced to the championship round in San Francisco, which means Roger Bernadina and native country advanced to the semifinal and championship round in San Francisco. They will play Japan on Tuesday in the final game of that pool’s second round.

DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY

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