VIERA, Fla. -- Third baseman Matt Skole was named the Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year last season for hitting a combined .291 with 27 home runs, 104 RBIs and a 438 on-base percentage for Class A affiliates Hagerstown and Potomac. He also impressed the front office by improving his footwork at third base. It helped that he was in great shape, and he arrived at Spring Training this year to make an impressive start.
"He has a great eye. He really knows where the ball is," said assistant general manager Bob Boone . "His improvement from the year before to last year, defensively, he really improved at third base. In the Arizona Fall League, he played first base and he likes it. He is going to be a decent defender. I think he is really going to hit. He is a hitter first and the power comes second."
Skole is often seen hitting monster shots during batting practice.
"He is a big, strong left-handed bat. We know what he could do as far as BP goes," said general manager Mike Rizzo. "He can hit them as far as anybody. He has produced on the field for us at each level. We are excited to see his progression and see him get better each and every time we lay eyes on him."
Skole will likely be teammates this year with outfielder Brian Goodwin and third baseman Anthony Rendon at Double-A Harrisburg. What position would Skole like to play -- third base or first? To him, it doesn't matter.
"We have great corner guys in the big league level with Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman. I'm just happy to be here," Skole said. "I'm learning from those guys. I see how they go about their business. I'm just trying to learn something new every day."
While he is in Major League camp, Skole wants to show manager Davey Johnson that he is all business on the field.
"Obviously, I want to show them I'm here for the team," Skole said. "I want to work hard. I want to go out there every day and bust my butt. I want to show them that I'm honored to have the privilege to be in big league Spring Training, and we'll go from there."
Ramos makes progress behind plate for bullpens
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos took a few more steps forward at Washington's Minor League complex on Monday. He was behind the plate for two bullpen sessions, marking the first time he was able to catch two sessions in one day since having major surgery on his right knee last May.
Ramos was even able to block a couple of balls thrown by reliever Ryan Perry, which pleased the 25-year-old backstop. Ramos was initially scared to block the ball because he thought he would feel pain in his knee.
"The knee feels good. My knee is strong. It didn't get tired at all," Ramos said. "We are going step by step. Today, it was another step. I don't feel any pain."
Manager Davey Johnson is optimistic Ramos will be ready for Opening Day, when he is expected to serve as the backup to Kurt Suzuki.
"I just go by what I see," Johnson said. "[Ramos] was blocking balls, bouncing well. He looked normal."
Soriano appears sharp in first bullpen with Nats
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals closer Rafael Soriano threw his first bullpen session of the spring Monday and looked sharp, according to catcher Kurt Suzuki.
"He was great. He was working on stuff, nothing really special," Suzuki said. "He was just getting himself ready. He was throwing the ball where he wanted to go. I really didn't have to move my glove much. That's when you know the guy has been doing it a long time -- where he has his first bullpen, fires away and hits every spot."
After the session ended, manager Davey Johnson had a conversation with Soriano and decided the 33-year-old will not pitch in any Grapefruit League games until the second week of the spring season.
"In talking to him, he didn't need any more than a certain number of innings -- no more than eight or 10," Johnson said.
• Manager Davey Johnson announced that right-hander Stephen Strasburg will start Washington's first Grapefruit League game against the Mets on Saturday afternoon in Port Lucie, Fla., while right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will pitch the second game against the Marlins at Space Coast Stadium on Sunday.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will start the third game Monday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. It will be the first of three starts for Gonzalez before he leaves camp for the World Baseball Classic.
• Reliever Henry Rodriguez, who has a right bicep injury, long tossed Monday without any problems. Johnson said Rodriguez will likely have his first bullpen session of the spring in a couple of days.
• Reliever Ryan Mattheus had a bullpen session Monday, but was sent home soon after because of flu-like symptoms. He is expected to work out Tuesday.
• General manager Mike Rizzo: "Nothing has surprised me [during Spring Training]. I'm pleased with the physical conditioning that everyone has showed up in. They are in shape. They are getting their work in. You guys go past the weight room all the time. It's jam packed and guys are willing to go in, they want to go in there. I think it shows on the field where guys can get their throwing in, get their running in. There are very few guys that are curtailed at what they can do."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.