Results tagged ‘ Hagerstown Suns ’

Down on the Farm: Matt Skole

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The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft begins next Monday evening, June 4, providing 50 rounds for every club in the game to find fresh talent with which they can stock their farm systems for years to come. The Nationals have had some excellent drafts in recent years (as we detail in this homestand’s Inside Pitch, available at the ballpark beginning Friday!), and their haul from 2011 was especially impressive. Beyond their top four picks – Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin and Matt Purke – they also snagged talents like outfielder Caleb Ramsey (11th round) and Bryce Harper’s older brother, left-handed pitcher Bryan (30th round). But one of their most intriguing picks was fifth-rounder Matt Skole, a power-hitting third baseman out of Georgia Tech.

Skole belted 47 home runs and posted a slugging percentage above .600 over his three-year collegiate career with the Yellow Jackets. After signing last summer, he hit just five home runs, but rapped 23 doubles in 72 games for Short-Season Auburn. The 22 year-old has been able to carry more balls over the wall this year at Low-A Hagerstown, batting .306/.454/.561 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 38 runs scored and 50 RBI in his first 51 games played. Those numbers have him on pace for 30 doubles, 30 home runs, and a mind-blowing 135 RBI as the Minor League schedule passes its one-third mark. There are two numbers, though, that stand above the rest in the eyes of Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris.

Matt Skole has impressed so far in his first full season in the Minor Leagues.

The first is that gaudy on-base percentage. Harris, who estimates that he has already seen Skole about 10 times this season amongst his travels throughout the Washington farm system, points out the two components of the powerful lefty’s approach that have led to his success.

“When he did get a pitch to hit, he did a good job centering the baseball,” Harris says. “When they didn’t give him a pitch to hit, he did a good job controlling the strike zone and not chasing.”

That patient eye has paid dividends, as Skole has racked up 49 walks, a full dozen more than the next closest total in the South Atlantic League. That has been especially important, as the Suns have suffered the injury bug almost as bad as the one that has afflicted the Major League club. This has left Skole as one of the lone power threats in the lineup at times, and opponents have often pitched around him.

The second area where the left-handed Skole has made significant strides is in his situational hitting. After batting 120 points higher against righties last year (.323 compared to .203 vs. lefties), he is amazingly hitting better against southpaws, a rarity for those who bat from the left side. Skole’s .291 mark vs. righties is still strong, but his .329 against southpaws is especially impressive.

“He has done some things in his approach, staying in his legs, having more balance,” explains Harris. “He is just in a more consistent position to hit. When left-handers have a mindset of backing up contact, where they are willing to use the entire field rather than just look to pull, that puts them in a better position. He has done that.”

At 6’4”, 230 pounds, Skole came into the system as a big-bodied kid who projected as a power bat, but not necessarily a nimble defender. After assigning him to the hot corner, the Nationals were looking for Skole to take strides to improve his body composition to better allow himself to handle the position.

“A lot of big guys have to do a little extra to control their bodies,” explains Harris.  “He has really done a nice job with his footwork and how he allows the rest of his body to get into position, both fielding a ball and throwing.”

After a rigorous offseason conditioning program, in which Skole worked with his brother Jacob, an outfielder in the Rangers organization, Harris has seen that transformation pay dividends. Both Skole’s willingness to adapt, and the results he has achieved, have left him in a good position moving forward.

“He’s done a lot of things you look for to consider advancement, in particular, controlling the strike zone,” says Harris. “He has certainly put him in a spot that awards consideration down the road.”

Down on the Farm: Michael Taylor

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When the Nationals entered camp in Viera this spring, there were few positions on the field that were yet to be decided. In fact, one could argue that the only truly open position was in center field. Sure, there has been discussion over the last rotation and bullpen spots, as there is with most every team every year, but center field seemed to be the one position for which fans and media-types alike couldn’t arrive at a definitive answer. Needless to say, though, it will not remain a question mark in the long term. In fact, with the recent assignment of Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse with the specific task of playing in the middle of the outfield, the center field position might now be the deepest in the Nationals farm system. And whether Harper sticks in center or eventually shifts back to a corner outfield spot may depend less on him and more on another player many are talking about in the Nationals chain: Michael Taylor.

That may seem like an overstatement for a young man who has never played above Low-A and who won’t turn 21 until next Monday. But he has impressed enough both inside the organization and out to be placed fourth in Washington’s system in MLB.com’s most recent prospect rankings.

While Taylor’s career slash line through his first two seasons is just .240/.301/.400, that hides the progress he made in the second half of last year at Low-A Hagerstown, where he batted .291/.351/.498 after the break. At 6’2” and just 190 pounds, he is still quite slender, but has a projectable frame that coaches believe will fill out over the next few years, bringing more power along with it. If Taylor’s offense plays out according to plan, he could possess the full regiment of tools at one of the premiere defensive positions in the game.

Michael Taylor has impressed since his move to center field.

Taylor was drafted as a shortstop, but the Nationals saw an athlete with great instincts and a solid arm that they believed could handle the premiere outfield defensive slot. Ironically, it was the defensive move that may have helped unlock Taylor’s offensive potential and allowed him to become the complete player the Nationals envisioned when they drafted him in the sixth round out of Ft. Lauderdale’s Westminster Academy in 2009.

“The move to the outfield freed him up a great deal offensively,” explains Doug Harris, the Nationals director of player development. “He’s a gifted defender, in part because of his athleticism, but he’s very instinctive as well. Physically, the sky is the limit for him.”

It is hard to imagine, though, that anyone saw that he would take to it as well as he has. Tony Tarasco, Washington’s Minor League hitting coordinator, saw him come to life in the instructional league last fall.

“I watched him go gap-to-gap his first day out there,” recalls Tarasco. “Of course his playing at shortstop helped him when he went to the outfield, because he could get rid of the ball quicker than a lot of other players. And he’s got a cannon arm, but he’s precise. He doesn’t miss the relay man often.”

Tarasco, who was has been very impressed with what he’s seen out of Taylor in his short time in the system, thinks that the change may have even occurred slightly earlier than when Harris saw it come about. He cites a change in attitude as a key factor in the young player’s development.

“He spent some time with Bob Boone in the cage,” recounts Tarasco. “Mike has always been a shy, quiet kid. He was so respectful that it made him almost timid. I think he left Boony with a little bit of aggression.”

Taylor himself recognizes that whatever his adjustments were, they required some work both with his physical and psychological approach. He is quiet, as Tarasco describes, and almost impossibly polite, and describes his progress earnestly.

Tony Tarasco (back turned) teaching fundamentals in Minor League camp.

“I think the work that I did on the physical side helped me relax more and I was able to be at ease in the box,” he explains of the work he did to improve his swing.

However, he goes on to describe the mental side of the adjustment as well, and in doing so, reveals that he is well beyond his years in terms of mental make-up. One of the words that you will hear the most around a professional baseball diamond is “consistency.” Those who can achieve it, who can ride out the slumps by simplifying the game to its individual pieces, are the ones that survive and move up.

“I really enjoy just having a routine,” explains Taylor, showing a keen understanding of that consistency. “That just keeps me focused on right here, on the field.”

According to Tarasco, for Taylor that means keeping a detailed black book of every at-bat, notes on every pitcher faced, for the entire season. Last year, that meant nearly 500 plate appearances, each tracked meticulously.

“I’ve seen guys start it,” says Tarasco of the exhaustive process. “But they get to July, then they don’t finish it. He was still doing it at the end of the year.”

It is that drive and approach, coupled with what Tarasco describes as a through-the-roof IQ, that he believes will help Taylor continue to progress in the years to come. For his part, Taylor is asking plenty of questions, trying to soak up as much as possible. He also appears to be listening, and not over-thinking when it comes to the larger picture.

“As long as I get my work in and stay focused on what I’m doing, everything else will kind of run its course and things will happen,” says the young outfielder.

In talking to Tarasco, it is easy to see where Taylor gets his approach to the game.

“Every single day, you wouldn’t know if he was 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, he continues to have that relentless attitude,” says Tarasco. “The willpower to move slowly, to go day-by-day, eventually is going to catapult him and spring him ahead.”

While there won’t be any rush to get Taylor to the big leagues, those in the Washington-area may have the chance to keep an especially close eye on him as he will likely make his 2012 debut at High-A Potomac in April.

Down on the Farm: Tyler Moore

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Ed. Note: Here at Curly W Live, we will be taking a closer look at some of the top up-and-coming prospects in the Nationals farm system throughout the 2012 season. Make sure to vote in our poll at the end of this article to help determine which player we will profile next.

There have been plenty of heralded prospects making their way up the ranks of the Nationals farm system over the last few years. Strong, talent-rich drafts have stocked Washington’s minor league affiliates to the point that prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade – which sent four of the club’s top 13-rated prospects to the Oakland AthleticsBaseball America had the Nationals ranked as the top overall minor league system in the game heading into 2012. Even after that deal, there are plenty of big names left, led of course by Bryce Harper. Those who keep their eyes on the minors will get their first glimpse of the likes of Anthony Rendon and the first regular season action for Matt Purke, who made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League. These few will dominate the headlines, but we begin this season’s slate with one of the most promising power hitters in the system, Tyler Moore.

Moore sizes up a blast while with Potomac in 2010. (Steve Mihelerakis)

At the minor league level, where seasons are shorter and younger players are still filling out their athletic frames, large power totals are rare. In fact, only 15 minor leaguers hit 30 or more home runs in 2011, and only two have turned the trick in each of the last two years. The first name may ring a bell: Paul Goldschmidt. He was the rookie phenom who, after swatting 35 longballs for Double-A Mobile, was called up in September and played a key role in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ run to the National League West crown. The other player was Moore, a soft-spoken first baseman who, even after such an impressive two-year run, still does not appear in Baseball America’s top 10 prospect list for the Nationals.

Ranking or no ranking, that kind of power will earn you some respect and, in Moore’s case, some investment from the organization. The slugger was added to the 40-Man Roster in November, along with Eury Perez, Jhonatan Solano and the recently traded Derek Norris, to prevent him from being selected by another club in the annual Rule V Draft.

“This was his protection year,” explained Doug Harris, the Nationals Director of Player Development. “With power being a premium in today’s game, we felt like it was an easy decision for us.”

While Harris was not yet with the organization back when Moore first came into the system, he saw him as an opposing player while Harris was with the Cleveland Indians and Moore was at Low-A Hagerstown in 2008.

“As an opposing scout watching him, he was a guy that could always impact the baseball,” recalled Harris. “When he was in Hagerstown, it was really pole-to-pole power. Really his best power was to right-center, which is a true indicator of a guy who has a chance to come into bigger power down the road. So you saw glimpses of it, and I think a lot of the doubles he hit in Hagerstown got turned into home runs over the last couple of years.”

Moore slides feet first into second. (Steve Mihelerakis)

After hitting 30 two-baggers but just nine home runs in 111 games at Hagerstown in 2009, Moore got off to a rough start his next season at High-A Potomac. In 79 games through July 12, he had collected 47 RBI, but was batting just .191. Moore made an adjustment, though, and turned his season around completely. Over his final 50 contests, he went a staggering 76-for-193 (.394) with 21 home runs and 64 RBI. He would go on to lead the Carolina League in home runs (31), RBI (111), doubles (43), slugging percentage (.552), extra-base hits (77) and total bases (277), earning both league MVP honors and the Nationals Organizational Player of the Year. Moore put together another impressive campaign last year in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League, where he matched his home run total of 31, and again lead the league in RBI, extra-base hits and total bases.

In fact, in 189 games played since his remarkable turnaround, the 6’2”, 210-pound righty has swatted 52 home runs and driven in 154.

“When you break down the 2010 season that he had at Potomac…he really came into his own in the second half,” explained Harris. “It’s a credit to him. He’s a tireless worker, he never wavered in his approach or his intent day-to-day, and it really speaks volumes about who he is.”

Like many sluggers with such impressive power numbers, Moore also racks up his fair share of strikeouts, averaging 125 K’s over the past three seasons. However, he has also batted a very respectable .277 over that same stretch and it’s hard to argue with the run production.

Clearly, the Nationals have seen something in Moore’s potential ever since he was just a prep player at Northwest Rankin High School in Brandon, Mississippi. They actually drafted him on three separate occasions: in the 41st round straight out of high school in 2005, in the 33rd round after a year at Meridian Junior College in 2006, and finally in the 16th round after two years at Mississippi State in 2008. Moore signed at last, and has spent each of the last four seasons at a different level of the farm system, slowly playing his way up to Double-A in 2011. Now, as he enters his first big league camp in Florida, Moore will face new pressures and expectations from the Nationals staff. So, just how high is Moore’s ceiling?

Moore's power continued at Harrisburg in 2011. (Will Bentzel)

“I think a lot of that is really up to Tyler,” said Harris. “He’s obviously put together two very productive years back-to-back. He’s going to be given an opportunity at a higher level and a chance to continue to show what he’s capable of doing. I know that our Major League staff is excited to get a glimpse of him in Spring Training.”

As for how Moore will respond to the challenge, Harris is not worried.

“Tyler is a very high-character young man, a tremendous teammate,” said Harris. “He’s an early-to-the-ballpark kind of guy. He blends with every mix of player. He’s a quiet leader, not a big-time vocal leader, but he’s got a great presence and he’s very well-liked amongst his teammates.”

Those traits should serve him well, as Harris suggested that the coaching staff may try Moore out at several defensive positions to see where he can best fit into the Nationals’ future plans. Originally drafted as a third baseman, he has played exclusively at first base (or been a designated hitter) in his 448 career minor league games. Harris said the staff has tried him in the outfield a bit as well, and that they will continue to “kick the tires” on that experiment moving forward. Either way, it will just be one more adjustment, something Moore has shown that he’s good at making.

“There’s an adjustment period going to a new level each year,” said Harris. “I know that he’s preparing himself to be ready to go out of the gate this year. He’s a kid that’s had to earn everything he’s got.”

While Moore seems destined for Syracuse in April, if he is able to find similar success at the Triple-A level in 2012 as he has the past two years, fans in the District may get a glimpse of him before the year is out.

Video: Moore goes deep for Harrisburg

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