After earning Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2012, Matt Skole was hoping for something a little more exciting as a follow-up.
Instead, a freak injury ended his regular season in the first week of April and he spent the summer rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm.
The Nationals' No. 10 prospect made his return to the diamond on Tuesday afternoon and homered as Mesa battled to an 8-8, 11-inning tie with Glendale on Opening Day in the Arizona Fall League.
Skole served as the Solar Sox's designated hitter and went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. The homer was a two-run blast in a five-run eighth inning that gave Mesa an 8-7 advantage.
"I haven't been out on the field that much this year," the 24-year-old first baseman said. "I was juicing to get out there and play. I was looking to get a pitch to hit and keep the inning going. I just drove it and it got out. It felt good to get back out on the field and play again."
Skole suffered a fractured left wrist and tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow during a collision while playing for Double-A Harrisburg on April 5.
"I had surgery and missed the rest of the year," he said. "I've been playing in instructional league, but this is really my first competitive game playing against different teams and with people in the stands."
The Georgia Tech product was coming off a stellar 2012 in which he hit .291 with 27 homers, 104 RBIs and a .986 OPS in a season split between Class A Hagerstown and Class A Advanced Potomac.
Skole also played in the AFL last season, batting .305 with three homers and a .944 OPS. He said he's likely to continue serving as DH for at least a week before getting some reps in the field.
The Woodstock, Ga., native said he thinks the homer will help him get comfortable on the diamond more quickly.
"It makes you feel better, for sure," Skole said. "It's nice to have a good day. It's good for my psyche and my confidence knowing I can come out here and compete and that I've still got it. Whatever I did today was fine with me. I was just happy to play today."
For Glendale, Minor League stolen base champion Micah Johnson picked up where he left off, nabbing the top spot on the AFL stolen base leaderboard. The White Sox No. 15 prospect swiped three bases, all in the first three innings.
"It's the same old, same old, man," Johnson said. "I've done the same thing all year. I'm just reacting to what I see. I didn't have to change anything. I've faced some of these guys before and I was just running today. I was able to get on base and got some great opportunities to run."
Johnson walked in the opening inning and swiped second before scoring on a double by Reds prospect Yorman Rodriguez. Johnson led off the third by reaching on an error by first baseman and Angels No. 2 prospect C.J. Cron, stole two more bases and scored again on a base hit by Rodriguez.
After grounding out in the fifth, Johnson turned a fairly routine single into a double in the seventh for his first Fall League hit. He added a single in the 10th and finished 2-for-5 with a walk and three runs scored.
Johnson stole 84 bases during the regular season for Class A Kannapolis, Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. He was successful on 75.7 percent of his attempts while batting .312 with a .373 on-base percentage.
The Minors-leading performance came after Johnson stole seven bases in 24 games as an Indiana University junior and 19 bases in 69 games in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2012. The breakout came from increased aggressiveness as well as the adoption of what he calls a "walking lead."
"I'm trying to get a more consistent lead every time I'm on first, and then I'm just using that walking lead to my advantage," he said."
The performance earned Johnson a MiLBY nomination for Breakout Prospect of the Year.
"Win or lose, it's not going to change anything," Johnson said. "Everybody on that list deserves to win it. C.J. Edwards had a really good year. I saw him earlier in the year. Mookie Betts is a buddy of mine. Everybody on the list had a great year. It's cool to be considered with them."
Rodriguez, ranked 15th in the Reds organization, went 3-for-5 with a double, a walk, three runs scored and two RBIs for Glendale.