Any player who has 34 RBI in 27 games, a .955 OPS and 11 errors raises eyebrows around baseball. These gaudy hitting and garish fielding numbers belong to Washington Nationals top prospect Matthew Skole, currently playing third base for the Low Class A Hagerstown Suns in the South Atlantic (aka Sally) League.
Skole, 22, the Nationals’ 5th round draft pick in 2011, attended Georgia Tech University, home of many fine major league players including Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. Baseball insiders laud his bat, but harbor major concerns about Skole’s glove.
So far, the scouts have this young slugger pegged perfectly, except he has hit even better than expected. Thus far for the Suns, in 126 plate appearances, Skole has five doubles, five homers, 34 RBI, and 28 walks for a .444 on-base percentage. Last year at short-season Auburn he put up similar numbers, earning an .820 OPS in 72 games, his first as a professional.
So, why has Mike Rizzo not ordered Skole promoted to hit against more challenging pitching at High-A Potomac? The young man has a glove of iron. In 92 minor league games, he has an astounding 25 errors and a sub .900 fielding percentage (.888). So far, this kid makes Adam Dunn (and for you old-timers, Dave Kingman) look like Gold Glovers.
While his swing is smooth and powerful, his movements in the field are jerky and uncertain. His throws from third base are often off-target. Range is also an issue. While he will improve with repetition and hard work, it is likely he will remain a below average fielder as he works his way up the Nats’ system.
The other issue he faces is his position. While he wears number 37 for the Suns, the number of Washington ace Stephen Strasburg, he plays the position of the “Face of the Franchise”, Ryan Zimmerman, who looks likely, at least when healthy, to have a long-term lock on the hot corner.
But, oh, that bat. A hitter on pace for 150 RBI’s will force a team to find a place for him somewhere. Expect the Nationals to eventually try Skole at the other corner positions where his bat will outweigh any defensive liabilities. All teams find space for elite hitters and Skole, while still with much to prove, has already shown top tier potential.
While at least two years away from D.C., keep an eye on this young man. By September 2014 or Opening Day 2015, you might see him starting in left field alongside Bryce Harper.
If you want to see him sooner, one way is to go see a game in Hagerstown’s historic old Municipal Stadium where stars like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, among many others, once played. It’s old, small, and quirky, but a great place to see prospects from close range.
(A quick personal note: Last year, a friend and I traveled to Hagerstown to see Harper’s professional debut. The team owner let us move from our obstructed view seats to his seats in the second row behind home plate. Sitting across from us? Harper’s parents and Davey Johnson! Later in the game, between innings, I shook Johnson’s hand and thanked him for all his contributions to baseball. Johnson was gracious at my extremely premature words.)
Outlook for 2012: If he keeps hitting, expect a promotion to Potomac in June or July, with the possibility of beginning the 2013 season at AA Harrisburg.
Chances of Playing for the Nationals in 2012: Zero. He needs a lot more experience, especially fielding and will have to learn a new position before he is close to being ready for the big leagues. Hitting-wise, though, the talent is definitely there.