Sunday Notes: Jays Prospect Ryan Noda Channels Kevin Youkilis (and Joey Votto)

There’s a pretty good chance you haven’t heard of Ryan Noda. That may even be the case if you follow the team that took him in the 15th round of the 2017 draft. Playing in a Toronto Blue Jays system that boasts numerous top-shelf prospects, Noda is anything but a notable name.

Expect that to change if he continues to do what he’s been doing. In 803 professional plate appearances, the 22-year-old University of Cincinnati product is slashing — drum roll, please — a nifty .293/.451/.515.

Oh, that OBP.

Here’s a fun comp: In his first professional season, Kevin Youkilis had a .504 OBP in 276 plate appearances. In his first professional season, Noda had a .507 OBP in 276 plate appearances. Both former UC Bearcats were on-base machines in their second year as well, reaching base at .436 and .421 clips respectively.

When I talked to Noda this past summer, he described himself as “patient, yet aggressive at the same time.”

The latter is bearing as much fruit as the former. Swinging from the left side, the 22-year-old first baseman-outfielder propelled 20 baseballs over fences this season for the Low-A Lansing Lugnuts. Coinciding with an increased emphasis on attacking the baseball, nine of those home runs came in the month of August.

“He ended up connecting really well with (hitting coach) Matty Young and used a more aggressive approach towards the latter half of the season,” explained Blue Jays farm director Gil Kim. “When he’s on, he’s in a small group of hitters who impact the ball as hard as he does. He’s a good athlete who is selective at the plate.”

Which brings us back to The Greek God of Walks.

“When I was at Cincinnati, Kevin Youkilis came to a couple of our practices and we’d pick his brain,” said Noda, who posted a 20.7% walk rate against Midwest League pitching. “Not swinging at strikes you don’t want is one of the things I picked up on. I’ve watched some video on him, too. He was one of the best selective-aggressive guys out there. When he got his pitch, he could do some damage with it.”

Which brings us back to what Kim said about Noda’s ability to impact the baseball. A month before being drafted by the Blue Jays, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound up-and-comer became the second Bearcat to hit a home run onto the roof of Fifth Third Arena. While he professes to being “a gap-to-gap guy,” he probably profiles as more of a bopper.

That said, his swing isn’t of the stereotypical launch-angle variety.

“I’d say I’m more even-plane than anything,” Noda explained. “I pretty much take my natural swing; the one from when I was little. I haven’t really messed with it too much. There are things you need to tweak as you go higher, but the overall concept of your swing is going to stay the same. 

“Short and compact is the key. You want to be short and compact, and stay through the ball. I think that’s every hitter’s goal with every swing they take. If I do that, and stay selective, things tend to go pretty well.”

Things have indeed been going pretty well for the native of Volo, Illinois, which brings us to a closing comp. Noda could reasonably be referred to a poor-man’s Joey Votto.

“I watch Votto a ton,” Noda informed me. “My two-strike approach came from him — the choke up, kind of widening out, and if I do get a pitcher’s pitch, foul it off and wait until he makes a mistake. His approach is a big reason he puts up the numbers he does every year. It’s why he is who he is. I can’t compare myself to him — I’m not close to being in his class — but I can say this: I model my game after Joey Votto.”


Many of you will recall the Lars Anderson Discovers Australia series that ran here at FanGraphs earlier in the year. Ditto the Lars Anderson Discovers Japan series that ran in 2017. If you read many of the installments, you may also recall that the former big-leaguer is a co-owner of San Francisco-based Birdman Bats. That brought Anderson to the Winter Meetings, where he filled me on his no-longer-playing-baseball status.

“I’ve said that it was my last year for the last four or five years, but now it really does feel like I’ve squeezed enough juice out of the orange,” said Anderson, who is currently hanging his hat in Sydney. “I’ve accomplished a lot of what I wanted to do as far as playing baseball abroad and experiencing other cultures. Now my focus is on this business, making music, and writing. On a bigger scale, I’m trying to figure out how I fit into the world. I’m trying to transition into post-baseball life as gracefully as possible.”

Anderson’s Birdman colleagues — Ryan Kalish among them — were with him in Las Vegas. Quaffing an afternoon beverage, I learned that one of their clients swings a caffeinated bat.

Hunter Pence is well known in the San Francisco coffee scene,” Anderson explained. “He asked us to make him something he would like, so knowing that he’s an infamous coffee fan, we decided to scrub his bats with coffee grounds.”

Birdman’s Cody Silveria elaborated, telling me that scrubbing is part of the bat-making process, and coffee hues are within MLB regulations. As he put it, “We put two and two together and were like, ‘Hey, they’re cool with that color, so we should caffeinate Pence’s bats!”

Other Birdman buyers prefer their bats inebriated.

“We’d talked about doing different earth tones, so we did wine — California’s finest cabernet, straight out of Sonoma,” said Silveria. “We like to bring some artistry to baseball bats. Players in today’s game want some uniqueness. They want to be different, and we can help them with that.”



JT Snow went 0 for 6 against David Weathers.

Whitey Glazner went 0 for 7 against Jesse Winters.

Gene Freese went 1 for 9 against Jim Coates.

Chili Davis went 2 for 9 against Chuck Rainey.

Smoky Burgess went 3 for 8 against Windy McCall.


The San Francisco Giants claiming Mike Gerber off waivers from the Detroit Tigers didn’t exactly cause a big ripple when the news broke on Monday. It was, as stated by a San Jose Mercury News subheadline, “the first addition of the Farhan Zaidi era,” but again, barely a ripple for Bay Area baseball fans.

Who is Mike Gerber? When I wrote about him in a June 2015 Notes column, he was an unheralded, senior-sign 15th-round pick tearing up the Midwest League. This past season he was a 26-year-old rookie outfielder getting his feet wet with an uninspiring 18-game big-league cameo. In between, he took baby steps toward the big time, inching up the minor-league ladder until until the call-up finally came.

Mechanically, Gerber is much the same as when we spoke three years ago. This past August he told me that his “front foot is more open,” but for the most part his adjustments have been small enough that “fans probably wouldn’t notice on TV.” (If you happened to watch the Miss USA pageant in 2015, you saw his then-fiancee, and now wife, compete as Miss Wyoming.)

As for his own aspirations, Gerber has already beaten the odds by simply making it to the big leagues. Sticking will be the next challenge — his profile is that of a AAAA player — but he fully intends to do his best. Moreover, he’ll do so with the right attitude.

“You work your entire life to get here, and when you finally do, you need to enjoy it,” Gerber told me. “You need to play hard and have fun. As long as you do that, whatever happens happens, and you’re fine with it.”


Longevity is a big reason Harold Baines and Lee Smith will be going into the Hall of Fame courtesy of the Today’s Game Era Committee. Baines played in 2,830 games over 22 big-league seasons, while Smith pitched in 1,022 games over 18. Ultimately, both were able to augment good-but-not-great rate stats with impressive counting stats.

I asked Joe Torre how much longevity matters when assessing a player’s career.

“They both played for a long time, and when they felt they couldn’t help anybody they walked away,” the Hall of Fame manager responded. “To me, that’s important. Harold Baines was one of those players who showed up for work every day. If it wasn’t for the work stoppages, he may have had 3,000 hits. And the number of RBIs is up there in the stratosphere. When you get 1,600-plus RBIs, that’s a big number.”


He’s unlikely to receive much support once he’s on the Hall of Fame ballot, but Edwin Encarnacion has put up some pretty impressive numbers over his 14-year career. The slugging corner infielder/designated hitter ranks third among active players with 380 home runs, and his 764 runs driven in over the last seven seasons is the most in the game. Encarnacion, who became a Seattle Mariner on Thursday, has a career adjusted OPS of 124.



Not necessarily new news, but the press box in Toronto’s Rogers Centre will be relocated to left field beginning next season. According to Sportsnet Canada’s Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays will now have “the most-distantly-located press box in baseball.” Premium seating will occupy the space high above home plate.

The BBWAA has selected Rob Biertempfel (Pittsburgh chapter) as their new president, replacing Clark Spencer, whose term has expired. Paul Sullivan (Chicago chapter) is the new vice president.

Josh Rawich is this year’s winner of the Robert O. Fishel Award for public relations excellence in Major League Baseball. Rawich is the senior vice president of content and communications for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Griffin Roberts, whom the St. Louis Cardinals drafted 43rd overall this year out of Wake Forest University, has been suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a drug of abuse. It was the 22-year-old right-hander’s second violation of minor league baseball’s Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Oakland A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty has been selected as the recipient of the 2018 Tony Conigliaro Award, which honors an MLB player “who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage.” Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, was diagnosed with ALS in 2017 and passed away on May 6, 2018.


The Orioles will begin putting together a coaching staff now that they’ve hired Brandon Hyde as their new manager. On Wednesday, I asked Baltimore general manager Mike Elias how much say Hyde will have in the coaching hires.

“More than I will have,” Elias claimed. “That’s probably the best way for me to phrase it. It’s hard for it not to have it be a collaborative effort. We all bring our networks together — I think that improves the outcome — but I’m going to look to yield to his preferences, first and foremost.”


Isiah Kiner-Falefa was a Swiss Army Knife for the Rangers this year. The 23-year-old rookie appeared in 46 games as a third baseman, 35 as a catcher, 20 as a second baseman, and two as a shortstop. I asked new Texas manager Chris Woodward if we can expect more of the same in 2019.

“I’d say he’ll definitely catch,” said Woodward, who spent the last three seasons as the Dodgers third base coach. “Catcher is probably one of our bigger priorities with him. We want to get him behind the plate a lot.”

Following up, I asked the former utility infielder if that meant Kiner-Falefa would no longer continue to move around the diamond.

“We’re going to have to address that as we go,” Woodward told me. “But we definitely want to make him a viable catcher option.”


Addressing the differences in eras, Adam Ottavino opined on a recent Statcast podcast that he “would strike Babe Ruth out every time.” When that was brought up to Bud Black in his Winter Meetings media session, the Colorado Rockies manager neither agreed nor disagreed with the free agent reliever. He did say — tongue presumably in cheek — that “Babe was pretty good down and in.”

Wanting to join in on the fun, I asked Black if he was speaking in general terms, or referring simply to his own match-ups against Ruth.

“I once threw a pretty good slider down and away to Babe that he had a pretty good swing on,” deadpanned Black, who delivered his first big-league pitch 46 years after Ruth retired. “He was a tough out for me. For the most part I felt pretty comfortable against left-handed hitters, but Babe was always a challenge.”



Peter Gammons paid homage to Jayson Stark— this year’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award recipient — at The Athletic.

Newsday’s David Lennon only put a check mark next to three names on his Hall of Fame ballot this year, and he explained why in this column.

SBNation’s Grant Brisbee wrote about how gambling used to scare baseball, and why it doesn’t anymore.

Tim Neverett is out as a member of the Red Sox broadcast team amid speculation that the club’s flagship station “wants to drop the concept of a conventional radio baseball broadcast to make the call of the game sound more like a talk show.” Chad Finn addressed the laughably absurd idea at The Boston Globe.

Brisbane Bandits pitcher Loek van Mil is reportedly in critical but stable condition after suffering a serious head injury while hiking. Lachlan Roberts has the story at Canberra, Australia’s RiotACT.


Exactly half of the 38 position players in Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame are outfielders. There are seven first basemen, four third basemen, three shortstops, three catchers, and two second basemen. (per @JballAllen)

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America was offered the Hank Aaron Award by MLB when it was introduced in 1999. The BBWAA turned it down, as they felt it would conflict with MVP Award voting. (per BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell.)

Orlando Cepeda had 379 home runs, a 133 adjusted OPS, and 50.2 WAR. Norm Cash had 377 home runs, a 139 adjusted OPS, and 52 WAR. Both were first basemen who played from 1958-1974. Cepeda is in the Hall of Fame. Cash received 1.8% of support on his one year on the ballot.

In his 2012 Triple Crown season, Miguel Cabrera also led the American League in total bases, slugging, OPS, runs created, and wOBA. He was second in wRC+ and fourth in OBP and WPA.

Bryce Harper had 97 home runs prior to his 23rd birthday. Tony Conigliaro had 104 home runs prior to his 23rd birthday.

From 1992-1994, Bob Tewksbury pitched 602 innings and walked 62 batters. Over that same three-year period, Mitch Williams pitched 163 innings and walked 132 batters.

Blake Snell made a combined eight starts against the Astros, Indians, and Red Sox this year. He went 7-0 with a 1.19 ERA against the three division winners.

Five pitchers attended Bowling Green University and went on to play 10 or more years in the big leagues. All of them — Johnny Antonelli, Doug Bair, Orel Hershiser, Grant Jackson, and Roger McDowell — won a World Series.

In 1928, St. Louis Browns outfielder Heinie Manush batted .378 and led the American Leagues with 241 hits. He struck out 14 times.

Abraham Harding Richardson — his nickname was “Old True Blue” — had 152 RBIs for the Boston Reds in 1890.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Spitball McPhee
5 years ago

Jays, prospect, and OBP; three of my favorite things!