Maturing prospect Skole looking to make 2013 count

Former top pick getting back on track after losing most of last season to suspension

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jake Skole had a football scholarship to Georgia Tech. He could be playing big-time college football right now, chasing wide receivers and running backs across the Atlantic Coast Conference and enjoying back-to-back Sun Bowl appearances.

Instead, he turned that down to play baseball. He does not regret the move.

"I do not," Skole said. "I think about it on Saturdays very briefly, until I see somebody get knocked around. I don't think I could have grown up fast at Georgia Tech. You've got to grow up fast in the Minor Leagues."

Skole has been knocked around in the Rangers farm system and he is growing up fast. He was the Rangers No. 1 Draft pick in 2010 (15th overall) and now he is in danger of being overtaken by the many other talented outfielders in the Rangers farm system. He smiled when it was pointed out that '13 is a big year for him.

"No kidding," Skole said after a brief appearance in left field during the Rangers 3-1 loss to the Padres on Monday. "I need to start the season and put 2012 behind me, get back on the right track and on the right path."

He fell off the path in 2012, his third season with the Rangers after they signed him out of Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, Ga. He was taken in the same Draft as Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Orioles infielder Manny Machado -- two other top high school prospects that year -- but has not had the same charmed life.

Skole began last season at Class A Myrtle Beach and was hitting .185 with three home runs and 18 RBIs after 85 games when the announcement came down from Major League Baseball. Skole was hit with a 50-game suspension for amphetamine use. He was sidelined from June 29 to Aug. 21, and then finished the season playing 10 games at Class A Spokane, which is two steps below Myrtle Beach.

"It was a rough one," Skole said. "One big mistake ended up turning it into a lost year."

The Rangers wanted Skole to use the time off productively. He was a 20-year-old kid still trying to grow up, and they had him go through an in-house counseling program. Skole speaks highly of the experience.

"I met a lot of great people who I still keep in touch with," Skole said. "The Rangers do a great job with that. They surround you with a lot of people who help you. With everything I went through, it was a positive experience.

"A lot of it was just immaturity on my part. That was part of it, growing up as a man and realizing that things can be taken away from you. Just simple things that I needed to learn."

Skole was in Peoria on Monday as a scrub, picking up two innings so that Leonys Martin could take the rest of the game off. He did not get to bat and was on the bus back to Surprise, Ariz. On Tuesday he'll be back in Minor League camp trying to regain his status as a top prospect. Three years after being a No. 1 Draft pick, he is not even in the Rangers' Top 20 Prospects as ranked by MLB.com.

"Like a lot of guys, I just need repetition and I need to keep playing," Skole said. "We need to keep learning the game and learn what kind of player we are, figure out what we need to produce."

Skole knows there are others coming up from behind. One reason why the Rangers drafted him was because their pitching-rich system was hurting badly for premium offensive players. That's no longer the case, especially in the outfield. In the past three years the Rangers have drafted Zach Cone, Lewis Brinson and Nick Williams, and signed Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, and Jairo Beras, among others.

Skole knows it's time to produce or get passed by.

"You would be blind not to see it," Skole said. "It's just more incentive to stay on the grind and keep working. It's good having guys like that pushing you. The outfield competition throughout the camp has been good. Guys are competing for spots and it's a good thing for everybody."

Maybe it's better than getting knocked around a football field. Skole has been knocked around enough as it is in baseball but he still has a chance to come back strong this season. That he was even on the bus to Peoria at all on Monday shows the Rangers haven't forgotten about him.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.