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Photo Credit: MLB Pipeline

Ryan Noda Is A Bit Of A Baseball Mystery

If you’re like me, then you need all the large adult sons content injected into your veins every single baseball day. I totally can’t get enough of it, to be honest with you. And MiLB TV delivers it for all of us crazy prospect fans who need all of this prospect-y stuff.

I have always been a Jays-first kind of fan, but with the way the season has gone so far, I’m watching more Bisons, ‘Cats, and Lugnuts games. The Jays have been designated to my iPad and the affiliates to my flat-screen. I seriously don’t know how my girlfriend puts up with me during baseball season.

The Lugnuts have – as I type this – the second best record in the Midwest League. Breakout-prospect-star Kevin Smith, crushed in Lansing earlier in the season slashing .355/.407/.639 with an are-you-kidding-me 1.046 OPS before being promoted to Dunedin. Smith, who was the Jays’ 129th pick in the ’17 draft, drummed up a ton of noise with his bat, as he became the ‘Nuts’ offensive leader. And he has settled in just fine in Dunedin.

While Kevin Smith was murdering Midwest-League baseballs at Cooley Law School Stadium earlier in the spring, Ryan Noda was starting to slowly ‘walk’ his way into making some prospect-y noise and creating a little bit of prospect-y buzz. And since Kevin Smith’s promotion to Dunedin, Noda has become the new noisemaker down in Michigan’s capital, as his bat has heated up and he is starting to drive baseballs around the Midwest like the 2017 Appy League MVP that he is.

The 22-year-old was drafted in the 15th round by the Jays in ’17. And last year he put up some seriously disgusting numbers in the Appy League, as he slashed .364/.507/.575 with Bluefield. That .507 OBP is a 2002 Billy Beane Oakland Athletics dream. And he currently leads the Lugnuts with an OBP of .444 – not surprising at all because he knows how to get on base. And his .944 OPS leads the team for players who have played more than 50 games this season.

And the truth is I kind of feel like Ryan Noda is a bit of a mystery. I mean, he was the Jays’ 459th overall selection, and played for the UC Bearcats – I know that. And I even know that when he was a Bearcat, he hit a home run onto the roof of Fifth Third Arena, becoming only the second Bearcat ever to do that – pretty cool stuff. But, what is it about his approach at the plate that seems to get him on base? Is he able to recognize pitches easily? And why did so many teams pass on him in the ’17 draft?

I thought about doing an interview with Ryan Noda to ask him about hitting and his approach at the plate, but then decided to reach out to the great Jesse Goldberg-Strassler – the voice of the Lugnuts and host of Around The Nest – instead.

Jesse and I had an interesting back-and-forth ‘text’ conversation about Noda. And that’s when I realized I should ask Jesse if he would be cool with helping us all get to know Ryan Noda a little better. Jesse has had eyes on Noda all season and has talked to him about many baseball things.

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Alright, Jesse, I feel like Noda has some kind of pitch recognition super power because he is a walking machine – he even had a ridiculously high OBP in the Appy League (.507) – and lately he has been mashing Midwest League pitching. The dude just knows how to get on base and hit. Have you talked to Noda about his approach at the plate? If so, what has he said?

Ryan told me that he used to swing at everything, and that his father worked with him on becoming more selective and using the whole field. This work has clearly stayed with him as a priority, making sure that he does not expand the zone to aid the pitcher. The phrase he uses is “selective aggressiveness.”

So, I’m going to guess that if I were to ask you why you think he is able to get on base that you might answer with…

Selective aggressiveness, haha. It’s as simple as this: He knows what his zone is and he stays disciplined within his zone. He reminds me of Bo Bichette a bit in that he feels comfortable hitting with a two-strike count. While Bo spread his feet and shortened his stroke, Noda chokes up on the bat to help him defend the zone.

A Bo Bichette comparison – not too bad at all. Are you surprised that he has become one of the ‘Nuts’ most offensive players?

The opposite! I’m surprised that it took as long as it did. I was anticipating, based on his Appalachian League success, that he was going to be one of our best hitters this year. His April/May struggles surprised me. Now that he’s smoking the baseball, I feel like I’m seeing what it was like to watch him with the Bluefield Blue Jays last year.

So based on what you have seen this season, what’s your Ryan Noda scouting report?

Tremendous power, both to the pull side and to the oppo gap. Fine base runner with a 6-3, 230-lb. frame, which is excellent. I enjoy watching him scoop the ball at first base, too. And the walk numbers speak for themselves.

Do you think that his ability to get on base is something that will happen at the higher levels?

I do think that strike zone discipline is a tool that travels, though it will be predicated on his continued ability to barrel pitches in the zone. But he’s definitely going to keep getting himself into 3-2 counts.

Okay, Jesse, now if there was one tool that you feel he needs to develop, what is it?

He stole eight bases immediately this year, but hasn’t stolen anything since. I would love to see increased base running from him since he has such unexpected speed, it could be a real weapon.

Have you seen any sort of improvements in his game as the season continues to roll on?

I’ve certainly seen power improvements! Hitting zero home runs through May 29th to having 10 home runs from May 30th onward has been jawdropping. Also – this is important – his home runs are MAJESTIC. They’re glorious to watch.

This is a true story.

If you haven’t seen any of Noda’s bombs, here’s a two-run blast he hit against South Bend.

Now, Jesse, why should Jays fans be excited about a prospect like Noda?

He won the 2017 Appy League MVP award last year, draws walks at one of the best rates in all of the Minors, plays 1B/LF/RF, and is crushing the baseball. If he keeps this up, he could be in the conversation for 2018 Midwest League MVP. That’s exciting for anyone, let alone a 15th-round pick.

And, finally, bold prediction: Will the ‘Nuts win it all this year?

The clubhouse chemistry is right, but the roster is fluid and uncertain. Yeltsin Gudiño was batting near .400 in June for us – and then he was promoted. Show me who we’ll have on the team in August/September, and I’ll let you know. But we’re in the playoffs, so I’m saying there’s a chance.

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I want to thank Jesse for his time and hopefully you found some of the things we talked about interesting. I think that what Ryan Noda said about ‘selective aggressiveness’ at the plate is really interesting stuff. And I think a lot of MLB hitters still haven’t quite figured out how to do this well.

Sometimes it takes time for ballplayers to become more coachable. Sometimes struggling hitters just need to change their hand placement on the bat. Sometimes hitters need to under-think hitting. Sometimes players just swing and hit. Whatever Ryan Noda is doing, it seems to work.