Jake Noll was too good not to make Nationals Opening Day roster

Chris Lingebach
March 28, 2019 - 12:06 pm

25-year-old infielder Jake Noll making the Opening Day roster is the feel-good story of the offseason as the Nationals emerge from spring training.

Noll, a seventh-round pick in 2016, came into the organization "on the quiet" three years ago, Mike Rizzo told The Sports Junkies. The Nationals GM and President of Baseball Operations joins The Junkies each Wednesday at 9 a.m. all season long, a weekly segment billed as "In The Clubhouse" that's presented by Burke & Herbert Bank.

"He was a college kid and came into the organization kind of on the quiet, in the QT, in his early years," Rizzo said. "But he grabbed my attention two years ago in the minor leagues and then, really, I thought, took the next step in the Arizona Fall League this year."

Noll slashed a combined .291/.341/.412 with 11 homers, 20 doubles and 72 RBI in 549 plate appearances between Class-A Advanced Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2018. He continued to prove his value in Arizona in the fall, slashing .265/.309/.429 with two doubles, two homers and 14 RBI in just 55 plate appearances.

Then Noll kept on rumbling through spring, slashing .320/.393/.520 with four doubles, two home runs and 10 RBI in 56 plate appearances, too good to leave off the Opening Day roster. Noll, who's played at first, second and third base in the minors, is a versatile defensive option for manager Dave Martinez.

"He's a guy that can play multiple positions: third, first, he can play second base," Rizzo said. "We've got him taking balls in the outfield. He's put the catcher's gear on as an emergency catcher, if we need that during the year. He caught bullpens and caught a little bit in college. He's a guy that, really, he'd do anything to make the big leagues, like everybody else would."

"He forced us to take him on the team," he said. "Because, if you're true to the word that we're taking the best 25 north, and a guy like Jake doesn't make the team – where he shows off the bench he can play good defense at several position, he's got power off the bench and really controlled the strike zone early in spring training – you know, what are you telling everybody?

"It's hard to say you're taking the best 25 north when a guy who comes out and dominates spring training doesn't make the club."

Even if Noll's stay is short-lived, "you're gonna see him again if he's the guy who goes out," Rizzo assured. "He may force our hand. He may force us to keep him here and he may never go back. You never know. But we like the depth that he brings to the organization, and a guy that would literally do anything to help the club."

Nats fans will find one other surprise in the Opening Day lineup: Victor Robles batting ninth, where the pitcher usually hits in the order. There's a method to the madness.

With Robles hitting in the pitcher's slot, the theory goes that if he gets on base, Washington has a greater chance of three speedsters rounding the bases for Anthony Rendon, hitting third, once the lineup turns over. Adam Eaton, leading off the top of the order, and Trea Turner, hitting second, could be viewed as the second-and-third hitters if/when Robles gets on base, making Rendon the de facto cleanup hitter.

Every week, all baseball season, if any Washington player hits for the cycle during a Wednesday game, one lucky fan wins a cool $100K. Click here to enter the Burke & Herbert "Bank On The Cycle" contest!