Nats prospect goes deep in first contest in six months after recovering from injury
Matt Skole would have been happy just to play nine innings for Mesa in the Arizona Fall League on Opening Day. He had been out of action since April, when a collision at first base caused a microfracture in his left wrist and tore his ulnar collateral ligament.
But Tuesday, in his first competitive game in six months, Skole found himself in a critical situation. With Mesa rallying against Glendale right-hander Zack Jones in the eighth inning, Skole came to the plate with one on and one out. He drove a home run to left field, tying the game at 7. Four batters later, right fielder Jorge Soler, the Cubs' No. 3 prospect, doubled home a run to give the Solar Sox the lead.
Glendale came back to tie the game at 8 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, thanks to an RBI single by designated hitter Marcus Semien. The score remained tied through the 11th inning when AFL rules stipulated the game end in a tie.
Though the Solar Sox didn't get a victory, Skole said he was pleased with his first game back.
"It was good for my psyche and confidence, knowing I've still got it," Skole said. "Whatever I did today was fine with me. I was just happy to play today."
Skole, the Nationals' No. 10 prospect, went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a run. He said he wasn't trying to do too much when he came up in the eighth inning.
"I was looking to get a pitch to hit and keep the inning going," Skole said. "I just drove it and it got out."
Skole is still recovering from his injuries and is limited to being the designated hitter for now. But he said later in the AFL season he will be able to get back to playing the infield.
Skole's home run and the game's unusual finish ultimately overshadowed all of the top prospects who made it the AFL's most anticipated game of Opening Day. Glendale's starting lineup featured four players on MLB.com's Top 100 prospect list, including center fielder Byron Buxton, ranked No. 1. Buxton went 1-for-6 with an RBI and a run.
Mesa unveiled its own-star studded lineup that also had four Top 100 prospects in the starting lineup. Among them was a duo of Cubs prospects -- Soler and third baseman Kris Byrant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Daft. Soler went 1-for-6 with an RBI and Bryant went 3-for-6 with two runs and two RBIs.
While it was most of the players' introduction to the AFL, Skole is a return participant. He said he is looking forward to another go-around in the desert.
"I was out here last year and had a blast," Skole said. "It's fun to come out here and meet prospects from other organizations and build relationships. It helped me a lot last year and I think it's going to help a lot again."