Noll on late-season time with the Nats: "It's a great opportunity"

Utility infielder Jake Noll was called up mid-September and got to play in seven games with the Nationals. As he had done all season long at the alternate training site, he continued to swing the bat well. From Sept. 15-27, Noll hit .353 (6-for-17) with one double, two runs scored and just four strikeouts.

"It's a great opportunity," Noll said during the last weekend of the regular season. "I've been waiting for this chance to prove myself and prove I belong all year. 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. I just got to make other people believe it too."

Thumbnail image for Noll-Walks-White-sidebar.jpgFor Noll, it was a big deal to excel at the end of this season with the Nats, even if it was just in a handful of games with the team mired in fourth place in the National League East. Noll remembered how tough 2019 turned out after he had such high hopes of making the big-league club out of spring training. So being in D.C. instead of Fresno or Fredericksburg to finish the campaign was important.

Fresh off hitting .314 with four doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in West Palm Beach in 2019, Noll played in only eight games with the Nats and hit .167. At Triple-A Fresno, Noll played in 118 games, methodically getting his swing back to a solid consistency. After hitting .253 up to the All-Star break, Noll came on at the end of the season, slashing .333/.363/.437.

"Last year was kind of tough for me, bouncing all around, (I had) never played out in Triple-A," Noll said. "Tough out there in the beginning. 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 I would be prepared when I got a call-up and just go out and play baseball."

In Fredericksburg this summer, Noll kept an upbeat attitude and kept grinding, working on his craft, hoping for a chance to return to the Nats before the season ended.

"Honestly, I might be one of the only people that didn't mind it too much," Noll said in a postgame Zoom video session. "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. I tried to make the most out of it."

And to that end, in his off time at Fredericksburg, Noll got on the links.

"I actually played a lot of golf," he said. "I just kind of got into it this offseason, and now I'm convinced it helped me out swinging the bat. So I'm going to keep golfing. I would say I'm very patient. I play with some guys that get mad, and for me it's more relaxing. I don't really get too mad about golf (or) baseball in general."

Noll noticed on days he played golf and swung the clubs he actually hit better on the baseball diamond later in the day. A lot of players say golf can mess with their baseball swing. But Noll thinks golf helped him.

"Somedays I'd show up, I didn't golf the day before, and miss a few balls," Noll said. "So the next day I would go golfing and then I'd be 4-for-4, barreling everything. I don't know how it helped. I couldn't tell you, never really worked on a golf swing. My golf game is not too good, but it helped out for baseball, so that's why I kept doing it."

Noll said he played third base, first base, second base, and in the outfield while working out at the alternate training site. Noll said the repetitive outfield work helped him track fly balls and get good reads.

At the plate, Noll said, he got into a nice rhythm. The coaching staff in Fredericksburg took notice, and Triple-A Fresno manager Randy Knorr relayed Noll's progress to manager Davey Martinez.

"I hit really well," he said. "For me, it was go out and try and focus. It was a little different sometimes because we didn't have fielders. Just going out every day and have good at-bats and just get better."

Making the few months fun was going up against reliever Aaron Barrett, who talked last month about his one-on-one battles against Noll.

"I love Aaron Barrett," Noll said. "We would have a little friendly banter where I always told him I was going to take him deep and he said he was going to strike me out. It was a great time. That was the only way for us to stay sane down there and make it competitive, because doing the same thing every day, you don't get to travel on the road. You don't get to go anywhere. It made those days go by faster and it made for everybody to feel a little competition."

Minor league pitching coordinator Brad Holman said one issue they had to deal with in Fredericksburg was having a lot more pitchers available than fielders. That forced the coaching staff to make a quick decision as to what were "outs" or "hits" on long fly balls to the outfield. This led to some questioning of calls. Noll joked that it seemed some of his well hit balls were called outs when he thought he had extra bases.

"In my opinion, I think the scoring was a little favored towards the pitchers just so the innings would go faster," Noll said, grinning.

Noll did get a chance to go up against top prospects Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli. He liked what he saw from the pair, but again his competitiveness came out and Noll made sure to work even the prized No. 1 picks for hits every at-bat. Rutledge talked about how tough it was to face off against Noll in those intrasquad sessions.

"They have great stuff," Noll said. "They are going to pitch for a while, but coming up in the minors I always prided myself on ruining the 'prospect' day. I've never really been a prospect, so for me to ruin a prospect's day made my day. So that's how I went about it."

Now Noll hopes that his diligent work ethic and demonstrated ability to hit at the big league level will provide him with another opportunity to show what he can do in the Nats' spring training workouts for 2021.

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