The Nationals reported for spring training last month with a pretty good idea already who would fill out their 25-man roster. There were only a handful of jobs up for grabs, and even those seemed fairly set in stone, barring something unexpected developing over the course of six weeks in Florida.
Well, something unexpected did happen. His name is Jake Noll, and thanks to one of the most unexpected spring training performances in recent club history the 25-year-old infielder is about to make his big league debut.
The Nationals unveiled their opening day roster just now, and while 24 of the names should be recognizable to the vast majority of fans, only the diehards who paid attention all spring will have heard of the 25th player to make the list.
Noll, though, earned it with a breakthrough performance this spring that included a .320 batting average, six extra-base hits, 10 RBIs and .913 OPS across 56 plate appearances. And with the Nats needing an extra right-handed bat off the bench while Howie Kendrick recovers from a hamstring strain, Noll wound up getting the nod over fellow infielder Adrián Sanchez, who was optioned to Triple-A Fresno on Tuesday.
Noll did put himself on the organization’s radar last season when he hit a combined .291 with 11 homers, 72 RBIs and a .341 on-base percentage in 132 games for Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. The team’s sixth-round pick of the 2016 draft out of Florida Gulf Coast University, he was among the prospects sent to play in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .265 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 55 plate appearances.
Noll is the lone non-roster invitee from spring training to make it to D.C. for opening day. The Nationals have now officially purchased his contract and added him to the organization’s 40-man roster, using the spot that opened up last week when the Orioles claimed catcher Pedro Severino off waivers.
The 24 other players who made the roster all have big league experience, and all were expected to be included by the time camp broke Sunday.
Three players will open the season on the recently renamed injured list: Kendrick (left hamstring strain), outfielder Michael A. Taylor (left knee and hip sprain) and reliever Koda Glover (forearm strain) were placed on the 10-day IL, retroactive to March 25.
Kendrick’s injury opened the door for Noll to make the club, though the veteran utility man spoke encouragingly over the weekend of making it back to the active roster in short order, needing simply to get some at-bats and time in the field before he’ll be ready to go.
Taylor also was making progress (faster than initially expected) from the injuries he sustained making a diving catch on March 15, though he appears to be behind Kendrick in his rehab. Andrew Stevenson, who has the ability to play all three outfield positions, made the opening day roster as a result and will back up starters Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton.
The starting infield of Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon opens the season healthy, with Matt Adams (first base) and Wilmer Difo (utility man) backing them up. Yan Gomes will be behind the plate for Thursday’s opener, but he’ll share time with Kurt Suzuki as a veteran catching tandem.
The Nationals plan to open the season with a four-man rotation: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez. With three early off-days, they won’t need a fifth starter until their April 8-10 series at Philadelphia, so Jeremy Hellickson will pitch out of the bullpen as a long man for now.
The team has seven other traditional relievers to begin the season: closer Sean Doolittle, setup man Trevor Rosenthal, lefties Tony Sipp and Matt Grace, righties Kyle Barraclough, Wander Suero and Justin Miller.
Here’s the full opening day roster ...
CATCHERS (2): Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki
INFIELDERS (7): Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Matt Adams, Wilmer Difo, Jake Noll
OUTFIELDERS (4): Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Andrew Stevenson
STARTING PITCHERS (4): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez
RELIEF PITCHERS (8): Sean Doolittle, Trevor Rosenthal, Tony Sipp, Matt Grace, Kyle Barraclough, Wander Suero, Justin Miller, Jeremy Hellickson
10-DAY IL: Howie Kendrick (left hamstring strain), Michael A. Taylor (left knee and hip sprain), Koda Glover (right forearm strain)