Noll leaned on veteran Gomes on way to big league opportunity

One of the more interesting additions to the 2019 Nationals’ 25-man roster is infielder Jake Noll, who earned his first shot in the big leagues.

The right-handed hitting third baseman hit .314 with four doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in 27 spring training games to earn the spot. He can play first, second and third base, in the outfield and be the emergency catcher.

Noll said he found out Monday night he had made the team when he was called into manager Davey Martinez’s office after the exhibition game against the Yankees.

“Best feeling of my life,” Noll said. “(I) texted my mom about it. She was thrilled. Neither of us thought we’d be in this position right away, so it’s crazy.”

Martinez described Noll’s reaction when he told the 25-year-old he made the club.

“He had this little kiddish gleam in his face,” Martinez said. “I just told him, ‘Hey, well deserved.’ I actually had him address the team yesterday, which was kind of funny. But he spoke and said he loved his teammates, which was kind of nice.”

Noll said he felt he had a shot of possibly making the team late in spring training. He made it as high as Double-A Harrisburg for the first time last season.

“When I started looking around and realizing my locker was the only one in the corner that was empty, then I realized this could possibly happen,” he said.

“I’m excited about (the opportunity). I love hitting off of lefties. I just got to stay prepared and be ready when my name is called.”

Noll said he can play in a lot off different spots and understands he may be called to come in to pinch-hit or be a double-switch late in games on defense.

“I work hard on it every day,” Noll said of fielding different positions. “I take ground balls all over the field, fly balls out in the outfield, just wherever I need to be. It’s not easy being able to do that but whatever it takes to help the team win.”

jake-noll-bats-minors-sidebar.jpgNoll used his experience playing in the Arizona Fall League to get ready for major league spring training.

“I went out to the fall league and being around all those guys that are all about taking the next step,” Noll said. “It was nice being around them. Learn stuff from everybody and different coaching staffs. I didn’t really change much, I just learned a little bit more about the game, approach and everything.”

General manager Mike Rizzo watched Noll take advantage of opportunities as he progressed through camp in Florida.

“He was a guy we’ve had our eye on for the last year or so, year and a half,” Rizzo said. “He really emerged, in my eyes, in the Arizona Fall League and kind of continued it into spring training. We like his versatility. He gives you a little thump off the bench. Got a chance to impact a game against left-handed pitching. A guy who can play first, third (and second). We’ve got him taking balls in the outfield. He’s put the catcher’s gear on, in case we need an emergency catcher. He caught a little bit in college.”

During spring training, when other lockers were vacated, Noll leaned on veteran catcher Yan Gomes to provide him with sound advice on how to handle himself in a big league camp.

“I would say Yan Gomes helped me out a lot,” Noll said. “He was next to me at my locker and he always told me what to do, what not to do, when not to do it. He helped me out a lot. He told me a story of how he was a utility guy when he first came up his first year and just trying to be that guy.

“It was awesome. When I first got to big league camp, I was kind of nervous, I don’t know how to talk to these guys. Who am I going to talk to? I had a few buddies there early on, but they ended up leaving. But Yan was one to tell me what to do, it was great having him around being to help me out like a mentor.”

Gomes locker faced Noll’s in West Palm Beach. They had time before games to talk about the big leagues and what was expected. Gomes even gave Noll one of his catcher’s mitts to use to warm up in emergency situations. Gomes saw in Noll similar experiences he went through when he broke into the big leagues with the Blue Jays in 2012.

“I gave him a catcher’s mitt. I actually came up as a super utility guy,” Gomes said. “I kind of understood literally what he is going through. I don’t think he knew I came up as a super utility guy, so when I was talking to him, I told him my first big league game was at third base. You get what he’s going through. It’s just a matter of making him feel comfortable.

“Every single person in here has been in his shoes. Not so much breaking camp right away with a big league team, but we know kind of what’s going on in his mind and we make him feel as comfortable as we can and let him know we are here to be his friends, we’re here to be his teammates.”

Gomes remembers teammates with the Blue Jays and Indians that provided advice for him when he had simple questions he couldn’t ask anyone else without feeling embarrassed.

“Luckily, one of my former college teammates was with the Blue Jays at that time, (catcher) J.P. Arencibia, he kind of took me under his wing,” Gomes said. “I had some friends, (like) Colby Rasmus, who was one of my best friends growing up. I don’t think many people get to say it, but I had a locker next to Omar Vizquel. So you are kind of sitting there looking at him saying, ‘No way!’. He kind of made me feel comfortable. He helped me out with the infield part. He was one of the best infielders in this game, top five.”

Gomes said new players watch and learn when they first arrive. But it is also OK to ask questions and assert yourself when you gain confidence. That’s what he saw in Noll.

“It’s one of those things where you try to stay quiet, but that’s not the best of you coming out, so wanted to give him a little bit of the freedom to kind of talk,” Gomes said. “But like you said, the dos and don’ts. I kind of try to give a little bit of that. It’s the same thing as someone in your field coming in and starting to act like an idiot sometime, just kind of let them know. Not so much that you got to earn your spot here, but you just have a feel for what’s going on because the last thing you want is a distraction.”

Rizzo said Noll displayed his baseball ability in spring, but he also noticed the way Noll carried himself and demonstrated leadership qualities as important traits as well.

“I think that his demeanor in the clubhouse and the way he handled himself on the field with the veterans and then came out and showed early on in spring training he could really hit the fastball,” Rizzo said. “He could hit velocity, he’s really dangerous against left-handed pitching. We put him all over the field.

“He didn’t play much first base before spring training and seemed to handle that position fairly well. We had him take balls in the outfield. We know he can play third, and we know he can play second, so it gives us some opportunities and options for Davey off the bench.

Martinez echoed Rizzo’s sentiments about the hitting ability of Noll and his versatility on the field. The skipper could see Noll in a lot of different spots a while veterans Howie Kendrick and Michael A. Taylor rehabilitate injuries prior to returning to the team.

“There was a lot of talk about him in the fall league, how well he did,” Martinez said. “And we brought him to camp and just watched him, watched him move around, play different positions, what I was really excited about is how well he moves in the infield. We put him at second base and he helped us out. We put him at first base, he did really well. Third base.

“I even asked him if he can play the outfield and he’s been out there shagging fly balls and looks really good. Now I also asked him if he ever caught before and he has caught bullpens in college. So that’s huge. I just carry two catchers, but he can go out there in an emergency and do that.”

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