As we approach the top of the rankings, our beloved injured prospects are becoming a bit rarer. Slugging first/third baseman Matt Skole has never dealt with significant injury troubles, and his main opponent may be the perception issues that older sluggers in the lower minors face. Skole came in third on one list and fifth on another, but was eighth on the other two, demonstrating the varying degrees of faith in the maintainability of his production.
The Nationals drafted Skole out of Georgia Tech in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft. His ability as a hitter was not in doubt when he came out of college: in his second and final season at Georgia Tech, he hit .335/.437/.682 with 20 home runs in 62 games. However, before the draft, he was arrested for DUI, lowering his stock. Teams were also concerned about his ability to stick at third base, and that his bat might not be enough to play at first. These concerns combined to allow Skole to fall into the Nationals’ laps relatively late in the draft, and his immediate performance demonstrated some of what scouts saw in him. Although he was old for his level, 21 in short season A ball, his performance was still reasonably impressive: he hit .290 with an .820 OPS but only five home runs in 72 games. That offseason, Baseball America rated him as the Nats’ 21st best prospect, demonstrating little faith in him.
2012 would be Skole’s breakout year, and his performance put him on the radar of every scouting organization. In 101 games in A and 18 games in High A, Skole hit .291/.426/.559, dramatically increasing his slugging and on-base percentage over the previous season. He rediscovered his power stroke, hitting 27 home runs, and displayed great plate discipline, with an impressive 1.34 K/BB ratio. After the season, he went to play first base in the Arizona Fall League and continued to rake, hitting .305. Baseball America noted his improvement and amended their mistake from the previous season, rating him as the Nats’ #4 prospect before the team re-acquired A.J. Cole, in addition to designating him as having the system’s best power hitting ability and strike zone discipline. Plenty remain unconvinced of Skole’s ability, especially over his age, but a strong 23-year-old season in AA next year would go a long way towards dispelling those doubts.
Verdict: At this point, it seems unlikely that Skole will stick at third, given his playing 1B in the Arizona Fall League, but if he does stay, his defense will be closer to Miguel Cabrera‘s than Ryan Zimmerman‘s. In any event, it appears that his bat will play at either position if he can keep up his power stroke in the upper minors. Complaints about his age are legitimate, but there has to be something there if he can hit 27 home runs, even against slightly younger competition. He’ll be in a bit more age-appropriate company in AA next year, and if he keeps slugging like he has, he’ll get even more attention than he did this past season. While the Nats may not have room for him in his scheduled arrival season of 2015 with Anthony Rendon on the rise, he definitely appears to have the ability to be a major-league average or better first baseman if he can maintain his performance.