Skole breaks out of slump with four-RBI game
Nats' No. 12 prospect homers as first-place Rafters cruise past Saguaros in AFL
When Salt River starter Ryan Tepera was chased just four outs into Wednesday's game, Rafters first baseman Matt Skole said it was imperative for his team to respond quickly.
That response came the very next inning. Skole ripped a bases-loaded single to tie the game and Salt River never looked back, plating seven unanswered runs to defeat Surprise, 8-3, and maintain first place in the Arizona Fall League's East Division.
"It was huge," the first baseman said of his club's three-run third inning. "I'd say that was probably more of a turning point in the game than anything. That gave us the lead, and from then on out, it was just a great performance by our bullpen and us stringing hits together."
The Nationals' No. 12 prospect finished 2-for-4 with a walk, a home run and a season-high four RBIs.
His longball came in the fifth a shot to right-center field that also plated White Sox prospect Andy Wilkins to give the Rafters a 6-3 advantage.
"I was just trying to get something over the plate," Skole said. "I give credit to the pitcher (Kansas City's Malcolm Culver), he was making a lot of good pitches and I don't even know how many I fouled off. We were both up there battling and I guess he made a mistake on a 2-2 pitch. I caught it out front and hit a homer."
Skole is coming off a highly decorated second season, having earned South Atlantic League MVP and Nationals Minor League Hitter of the Year honors.
After posting a strong .290/.382/.438 line with short-season Auburn in his first pro campaign, the 23-year-old turned heads with his power this year. Skole topped the Sally League leaderboards in home runs (27) and slugging percentage (.574) and ranked second in RBIs (92) despite playing only 101 games for Hagerstown before being promoted to Class A Advanced Potomac in mid-August.
Skole did not miss a beat as the action shifted from the East Coast to the desert after the season, hitting at a .500 clip through his first six AFL games. A tweaked hamstring forced him to sit out a week, however, and the left-handed slugger came into the game with just two hits in his last 24 at-bats.
"I was really pleased with my performance here tonight," the Georgia Tech product said. "I've been struggling a bit coming off an injury and it was just good to come back out here and finally get things clicking again. ... This is my [third] game back, so finally getting back to seeing live pitching again I felt a lot more comfortable, like I did at the beginning of the year.
"It's definitely a big confidence booster for me. Hopefully, it's the beginning of something good. We've got eight or so games left and hopefully I can finish strong, take this team all the way and get a ring out here."
The fall has also seen Skole spending a significant amount of time at first base rather than his usual spot at third, a move he hopes will bring him more playing opportunities in a Washington organization that is crowded with third-base options, including top prospect Anthony Rendon.
"I wouldn't say it's necessarily permanent," Skole said. "Obviously, the versatility definitely helps in an organization with [Nationals third baseman Ryan] Zimmerman up top and Anthony Rendon, who's a great ballplayer, playing third base out here. So it kind of gives me a few more options and gives me a better chance of getting to the top some day. I will play some third during the season, but it's just a good tool to have when you're going through the system."
Salt River struck first on an RBI single by top White Sox prospect Trayce Thompson in the first. The Blue Jays right-hander had allowed just one run over his past three starts, but was touched up for three runs on three hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings.
Mets prospect Dustin Lawley led the Saguaros offensively, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
Zack Cox is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.