Washington Nationals’ 2019 1st Round pick Jackson Rutledge was asked in a recent Zoom call with reporters in the nation’s capital about which players at Fredericksburg, Virginia’s Alternate Training Site stood out for him, or gave him particularly tough at bats while they did what they could to simulate game action for everyone working there this season.
“I’ve had some struggles with Jake Noll recently,” Rutledge admitted.
“He’s hitting the ball really well off of everybody, and he’s one of those guys that I think I had an 11-12 pitch at bat against, just fouls pitches off and really works to continue at bats.”
“Jake Noll is hilarious,” Aaron Barrett, who spent the summer in Fredericksburg as well, shared after he was called up to the majors this past Tuesday night.
“He — every single time I’m up to pitch, [Noll] tells me he’s going to hit a homer off me. So there’s like that little inter-web of competitiveness, making little side bets here and there so he tells me I’m going to hit a homer off me, and I’m like, ‘You’re not going to get a homer off me, Jake.’ And so one outing I went three up, three down, and he starts walking to the plate. My inning is over, and I see him walking up, and I say, ‘Alright, Jake, get in the box.’”
“I did get him to pop out to first base, so he definitely lost that bet, but he’s been awesome.”
It’s not just his fellow players who have been impressed with Noll’s work at the Alternate Training Site.
“I talked to Randy [Knorr] a lot about him and he said that this kid has really matured a lot and became one of the leaders down there in Fredericksburg,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said, of the reporters he’s getting from Knorr, the organization’s Triple-A manager, who’s running the show in Virginia.
“But really, he said [Noll’s] at bats were unbelievable the whole time. Really worked hard on his defense, played a lot of outfield, first base, second base, third base, even did a little catching stint that we asked him to try out, because in an emergency he could be a third catcher, but he’s had great at bats and yesterday put him in to pinch hit, and had a great at bat and hit a missile up the middle of the field. So that was nice to see.”
Noll, 26, and a 2016 7th Round pick by the Nationals, debuted in the majors in March 2019, after a standout performance in Spring Training last year, but he ended up playing in just eight games, starting two, and going 2 for 12 with a double, a walk, and four Ks in 13 plate appearances on the season, though he put up a solid .285/.327/.410 line, 24 doubles, and 11 home runs in 118 games and 489 PAs at Triple-A Fresno.
He didn’t get another shot with the Nationals until he was called back up this week, but he was on the taxi squad at times and impressed his manager even then.
“A lot of these guys, like myself,” Martinez said, “... 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.
“I’ve just watched him — every time we brought him up with this taxi squad or whatever, I watch these guys and see how they react, and Jake goes about his day and does everything he does to prepare even when he wasn’t on the roster, and it was good to see.”
Going back to that part about catching... uh, why?
“It was a conversation that I had with him at first and asked him if he’d be willing to do it, because it’s nice,” Martinez explained.
“For me it’s — if you had a third catcher it’s kind of nice or somebody that can do it, then it gives you the option to do different things. I looked and I thought — and he’s done it before a little bit in college. And so we talked about it and he said he’s willing to do that. I said it’s not like you’re going to get back there and catch, but if something did happen, an emergency happened, if you could do it, that’s only a plus for you. It really is that you can do something like that.
“He plays multiple positions, so just adding another position is pretty good.”
Martinez acknowledged that it hasn’t been easy for players in Fredericksburg this season, but they really embraced what they were asked to do.
“Jake is one of those guys where he took it to heart, you know, what we were trying to explain to him and what we wanted him to do and really got better,” Martinez said.
“I just watched him take ground balls and everything all over the field and really, really got a lot better with his footwork, his hitting, we talked to him about staying behind the baseball, and not chasing, and I talked to Randy [Knorr] and he said he’s swinging at strikes.”
“He’s done really well. So kudos to him again for really going down there and really working hard, and getting himself back here, and when I see those guys come back, for me it’s about — I love it. Because I know the work that they put in and it means a lot to for him, for myself, for his teammates to see those guys come back and his teammates, when these guys do come back, man, they’re excited because they know they put in the time and work.”