Nats finish up strong in Arizona Fall League

Nats finish up strong in Arizona Fall League
November 19, 2012, 8:45 am
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While most of the country is busy preparing for Thanksgiving -- or watching a whole lot of football, as the case may be -- there were a select few professional baseball players still in action over the weekend.

The latest edition of the Arizona Fall League wrapped up Saturday when the Peoria Javelinas toppled the Salt River Rafters, 4-3, in the annual championship game, one that featured several Nationals prospects on the losing end.

Though their team came up short in the title game, a couple of Nats acquitted themselves quite well out in Arizona over the last six weeks.

Let's start with Anthony Rendon, who after a slow start to his AFL season finished strong, posting a .338 batting average, 10 doubles, 11 RBI, 15 walks and a .930 OPS in 22 regular season games. The 2011 first-round draft pick then went 1-for-4 with a triple in Saturday's championship.

For Rendon, this was both a successful AFL stint and also confirmation of his advanced skills. The 22-year-old third baseman had appeared in only 43 professional games before heading out to the desert but by all accounts wasn't fazed facing top Class AA and Class AAA talent.

Rendon still needs to prove he can stay healthy over the long haul while facing more experienced pitchers, but his performance this fall certainly suggests he's not far from being big-league ready. If all goes well, there's every reason to believe we'll see him in D.C. no later than September.

Matt Skole probably won't be showing up at Nationals Park in 2013 ... unless he's there to receive another organizational player of the year award. But the 23-year-old appeared to prove his stellar regular season (27 homers, 92 RBI in 101 games at low-Class A Hagerstown) was no fluke.

Skole, the Nationals' fifth-round pick in 2011, hit .305 with three homers, 15 RBI and a .944 OPS in 17 regular-season games for Salt River. He went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts in the championship game but made a couple of sparkling plays at first base, a position he had never manned as a professional.

Salt River manager Matt Williams was so confident in Skole's offensive ability, he had the slugger batting third on Saturday (one spot ahead of Rendon).

At the top of Williams' lineup was another Nationals prospect, Brian Goodwin, who wound up part of one of the game's most significant plays. Goodwin, who went 2-for-3 with a walk, led off the bottom of the seventh with his third triple in 21 AFL games. Representing the tying run, he tried to tag up on a subsequent flyball to right field but ultimately was called out on appeal for leaving third base too early.

Costly mistake or not, Goodwin made a name for himself during the AFL season. His average settled at .238, but he posted 11 extra-base hits and a .340 on-base percentage. If nothing else, the 22-year-old center fielder confirmed he should be considered someone who could crack the Nationals' lineup in 2014.

Not everyone in a Nats uniform thrived out in Arizona. Right-hander Ryan Perry, trying to refashion himself as a starter after pitching out of the big-league bullpen this season, was given the ball for the championship game but was rocked for four runs on eight hits and two walks in only three innings. Combined with six starts during the AFL's regular season, Perry finished with a 5.84 ERA.

Fellow right-hander Cole Kimball didn't pitch on Saturday, but he did make 11 appearances and establish his throwing shoulder is healthy again following major surgery that sidelined him for 14 months. Kimball also was named winner of the AFL's Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award, given annually to the player who "best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work, and leadership."