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C – Connor Wong
1B – Ryan Noda
2B – Jake Scheiner
SS – Kevin Merrell
3B – Willy Yahn
OF – Corey Julks, Luke Hamblin, Chris Carrier
The easiest name to pencil in to this team is Kevin Merrell, a top tier prospect and potential top 100 player in this class. Merrell, a pre-season FAVORITE and the top college shortstop in the country per my as yet unpublished positional rankings, checks every box for me when searching for a potential above-average up the middle talent: he’s crazy athletic, defensively versatile (love him at second, like him at short, intrigued by him in center), an easy plus runner, and, thanks to a damn near ideal draft year power surge, a legitimate threat to pop one to the gap every time he steps to the plate. The fact he’s proven at second base with the plus to plus-plus speed to excel in center gives him two excellent fallback options in the event shortstop doesn’t work out. I see no reason why it wouldn’t — the athleticism, hands, and arm (at least average) all play — but it’s nice to know you’ve got alternatives if things do change. With no major weaknesses and a bushel of pronounced strengths (speed, defense, pop, patience), I don’t think it’s unreasonable to project star upside when it comes to Merrell’s future. He’s going to be high on my list for sure.
Jake Scheiner may not have standout tools, but his production over the years, including a first year run at Houston matched by few in college baseball this season, is too good to ignore. My only notes on him coming into the year are short and sweet: “damn good hit tool.” Defensively, I’ve heard mixed opinions on the likelihood he can stick at his college position of shortstop. There are some who think he’s just athletic enough to pull it off, but most seem to believe he’s best as an offensive second baseman and/or utility infielder. I’d have no qualms drafting him as a shortstop with the plan to develop him at second if need be (there’s no shame in playing second once you make it to pro ball) before exploring that utility option. I like Scheiner a lot.
I was ready to write how I’m cooling on Connor Wong just a bit by pointing out that maybe his best potential outcome has dipped from future big league regular behind the plate to quality backup catcher and/or multi-position chess piece. Turns out I pretty much tackled this very subject about six weeks ago…
You may want to sit down for this, but Wong’s athleticism and plan of attack at the plate are what separates him from many otherwise similarly skilled contemporaries. Shocking that an athlete with patience would rank high on this list, yet here we are. In Wong’s case, there’s really no denying his chops. He has the fluidity behind the plate you’d expect from a former shortstop, a position some think he could still handle in a pinch, and occasional outfielder. Wong has been a little slow to pick up on some of the finer points of catching technique since making the switch — his feet are fine, but his hands still can get him in trouble — so it’s fair to wonder if a multi-position utility future could be his most useful long-term defensive deployment. I’m not completely sold on Wong’s power coming around enough to make him an impact starter at the next level, but the offensive strengths, including average to above-average speed and a knack for consistent hard contact against quality pitching, outweigh the weaknesses at this time.
Ryan Noda is an underrated athlete with plus raw power and unique (gloveless) swing mechanics. I’ve gone back and forth about his best position in pro ball — his experience in the outfield and strong arm could give him a shot there depending on what team he lands with — but ultimately went with first base for reasons both good (he’s quite strong there defensively) and practical (physically, he looks more like a first baseman than a corner outfielder). At the other infield corner, Willy Yahn makes hard contract and controls the zone as well as any hitter in the country this side of Ernie Clement. Like Clement, Yahn is a good athlete who can defend multiple spots in the infield. I don’t know how guys with their offensive profiles (i.e., low BB%, low K%) as college hitters tend to fare in pro ball (note to self: revisit this as part of a summer research project), but I’m looking forward to finding out with our admittedly tiny sample of two. Yahn is at 7.2 K% and 4.0 BB% so far in his college career. Clement is at 4.0 K% and 3.8 BB%. The list of players who have or had single-digit K% and BB% this decade: Juan Pierre, Jeff Keppinger, Placido Polanco, Marco Scutaro, Nori Aoki, Carlos Lee (!), Andrelton Simmons, Ben Revere, and Alberto Callaspo. Of that group, only three (Scutaro, Aoki, Guerrero) have/had put up league average offensive numbers by wRC+. I don’t know what any of this means other than Yahn and Clement will bring profoundly unique offensive approaches into pro ball. Can’t wait to see how it translates…and looking forward to revisiting this next year one the Nick Madrigal debates begin.
There’s not a ton to get excited about in this outfield — to this point, I almost feel like I’m blanking on an obvious name…let me know if that’s the case, please — but that won’t stop me from mining for hidden gems all the same. Corey Julks is an above-average runner with burgeoning power and exciting bat speed. It may be more of a fourth outfielder profile once you add it all up, but there’s room in pro ball for guys with his brand of well-rounded skill set. Chris Carrier has interesting power and Luke Hamblin has solid speed. Considered fellow senior-sign possibility Jarret DeHart (power/speed guy with questionable approach) over Hamblin based on upside, so don’t be shocked if that switch is made by the final rankings. Assuming I get deep enough in the rankings to where guys like DeHart and Hamblin live. And assuming anybody will read that far down a list if I make it…
Others receiving consideration…
C – Levi Borders, Travis Watkins, Logan Heiser
1B – Lex Kaplan, Hunter Williams
2B – Charlie Yorgen, Brandon Grudzielanek, Connor Hollis
SS – Wesley Phillips
3B – Connor McVey, Kam Gellinger, Eric Tyler, Hunter Hope
OF – Jarret DeHart, RJ Thompson, Isaac Feldstein, Tyler Webb, Eli Putnam
SR RHP Mitch Patishall (2016)
rSR RHP Bryan Chenoweth (2016)
rJR LHP Colton Cleary (2016)
JR RHP Andrew Zellner (2016)
SR C Woody Wallace (2016)
SR 1B Devin Wenzel (2016)
rSO 2B Connor McVey (2016)
SO LHP Dalton Lehnen (2017)
SO LHP JT Perez (2017)
SO RHP Tristan Hammans (2017)
SO 1B/OF Ryan Noda (2017)
SO 2B Kyle Mottice (2017)
Can we just talk about Ian Happ again? Please? I guess since it’s my site and I make the rules there’s really nothing me from doing just that, but it’s only right to turn the page and take a closer look to see who’s next in line.
If we’re swinging for the fences, then the most appropriate player to discuss is SO 1B/OF Ryan Noda. He’s obviously a 2017 draft candidate to know and we don’t typically try to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but his talent merits a mention. Power like Noda’s isn’t found at places like Cincinnati every day. He’s a good athlete with plenty of bat speed and no fear as a hitter, so if he can find a way to make his aggressive approach (77 K in 196 AB) work better for him then he’ll be talked about as a serious early round talent in 18 months or so.
The pitching staff returns a few intriguing names. My favorites among them include SR RHP Mitch Patishall, JR RHP Andrew Zellner, and SO LHP Dalton Lehnen. Lehnen, like Noda a 2017 draft prospect, showed solid stuff across the board as a freshman. Patishall had a 2015 season to forget, but could bring his decent fastball/curveball starting kit to a team willing to overlook some of his early college struggles. Zellner is your best Bearcat prospect heading into the 2016 draft season. His 87-91 heat and average or better slider could look even better by the end of the years as he’s got some projection left at 6-3, 190 pounds. Continued growth out of him could make him a worthy draft pick come June.