Drafted out of Florida Gulf Coast University in the 7th Round of the 2016 Draft, Jake Noll put up impressive numbers at the start of his fourth year in the organization, in Spring Training in 2019, going 16 for 51 (.314/.386/.510), with four doubles, two home runs, five walks, and 10 Ks in 27 games, and the Nationals rewarded that effort with a spot on Washington’s Opening Day roster.
While there were some injury issues which opened up opportunities, GM Mike Rizzo said Noll made it at least in part because the team, “... wanted to show our younger players too that Spring Training counts.”
“He kind of forced our hand to keep him on the team, and to make the club and that’s what young players have to strive to do, is to make things impossible for us to send them back to the minors.”
Noll was coming off a 2018 campaign split between High-A Potomac and AA Harrisburg, in which he put up a combined .291/.341/.412 line with 20 doubles and 11 home runs over 132 games and 549 plate appearances, and he went to the Arizona Fall League when the minor league season ended, where Rizzo got a good look at the then-24-year-old infielder, who went 13 for 49 (.265/.309/.429) with two doubles and two homers over 13 games and 55 PAs in AFL action.
“He got an invite to big league camp for a reason off of his season in 2018 and then the Arizona Fall League,” Rizzo said.
“When I saw him play out there [in Arizona], he really kind of opened my eyes that this guy could be a valuable piece for us down the road, and I think that his demeanor in the clubhouse and the way that he handled himself on the field with the veterans, and then came out and showed early in Spring Training that he could really hit the fastball, he could hit velocity.”
Noll got just eight games and 13 PAs, going 2 for 12 in the majors before he returned to the minors, where he went 130 for 456 (.285/.327/.410), with 24 doubles and 11 home runs for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies.
With no minor league season in 2020, Noll spent most of the past summer at the Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, VA, before the Nationals called him back up to the big leagues in September, but the now-26-year-old said he actually did not mind the repetitive nature of life in Virginia.
“I honestly might be one of the only people who didn’t mind it too much,” Noll said once he was called up.
“Obviously I’d rather be here in D.C., but it wasn’t the worst place. Great opportunity to get better, and work on stuff, and I tried to make the most out of it, so.”
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said he received positive reports on Noll’s work at the Alternate Site from Triple-A manager Randy Knorr, who worked with Noll in 2019, before running things in Fredericksburg this summer.
“I talked to Randy a lot about him,” Martinez explained, “and he said that this kid has really matured a lot and became one of the leaders down there in Fredericksburg. But really, he said his at bats were unbelievable the whole time.”
The skipper said he was impressed with the way Noll reacted to getting sent back to the minors after a cup of coffee in the majors in 2019 and how he handled himself in a weird situation in 2020.
“A lot of these guys, like myself, you come up to the big leagues for the first time and things don’t go well, but you learn a lot about yourself and you come back a different person. And I can see that in some of these guys, Jake being one of them.”
“He’s got a little confidence now. He understands who he is and what he needs to do and it’s good to watch him and see him.”
Noll went 6 for 17 (.353/.353/.412) with a double in seven games (three starts) and 17 PAs in the final weeks of the 2020 regular season, and he talked before his final appearance about getting another opportunity to show what he could do in a major league setting.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Noll said.
“I’ve been waiting for this chance to prove myself and prove I belong all year. So, I’m happy to be here and just got to keep getting better and prove myself at this level. I know I can be here myself, I’ve just got to make other people believe it too.”
He was also, he said, able to learn from his experiences in 2019 and make sure he was ready when another opportunity presented itself.
“Last year was kind of tough for me, bouncing all around, and never played out in Triple-A,” Noll said. “It’s tough out there in the beginning. I worked really hard at — at the end of the day it’s still baseball, and I think I amped myself up a little too much last year and put a lot of pressure on myself when there really wasn’t any in general.
“I just wanted to make sure that I would be prepared when I got a call up. And just go out and play baseball.”