Oakland’s primary first baseman in 2023, Ryan Noda was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 15th round way back in 2017. He spent three years in Toronto’s minor league system before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the deal that saw Ross Stripling head to the Blue Jays. Noda has progressed along the minor league ladder steadily, playing a full season at each minor league level and impressing at each. Of course, he along with every minor leaguer lost a season due to Covid, but that year off almost seemed to help him as he returned with much more power.
The Athletics nabbed Noda from the Dodgers with the second overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft last season, giving themselves a free look at a first base prospect who had performed well in Triple-A but was now blocked in Los Angeles by Freddie Freeman.
What were the expectations?
As a Rule 5 pick, it’s always a roll of the dice to see what a player can provide in the majors. Oakland has made it a big part of their offseason plans in the past decade or so, and have had one big hit (Mark Canha), but a lot of misses as well. It’s basically a free prospect, if you can stomach reserving a roster spot for them all year. But with Noda, there was plenty of reason to feel like he could provide at least serviceable production, maybe even in a platoon role. The production out of first base the year prior was dreadful, so the bar wasn’t especially high. And with no other obvious prospect as the heir for the position, Noda had an excellent chance to take that job and run away with it.
The club has to be pretty happy with what they got out of their most recent Rule 5 pick. Noda, who turns 28 right after Opening Day, was arguably one of the most consistent players on the entire offense, drawing walks at an almost league-leading clip. His walk rate of 15.6% would be third in the entire league if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Only superstars Juan Soto and Kyle Schwarber walked at a higher rate. Alas, a broken jaw in the middle of summer knocked Noda out for about a month, costing him a chance to be on that official leaderboard.
It wasn’t just his keen eye for drawing walks, though. Noda also racked up a solid amount of doubles, and probably would have hit over 30 if not for that injury. Add in an average-to-above-average glove at first base and decent baserunning, and Noda showed a lot to like in his rookie season.
On the flip side of things, Noda didn’t display typical power for a first baseman. The 13 home runs would rank outside the top 20 home run leaders among first basemen. And at 6’3”, it’s not like Noda doesn’t have the frame for more power. While the on-base percentage is great, his average was a lowly .229, which is well *ahem*below average. You can almost never walk a guy in from second base to home, you need to bring in runners from scoring position with hits, a department that Noda will need to improve upon moving forward. And finally, Noda had a flat .200 average against left-handed pitchers. Even if he improves the other areas of his game, if he isn’t able to handle lefties better then he’ll never be more than a platoon bat at first base,
Noda looks to have a strong hold on the first base job after a solid enough rookie season. The only other first baseman on the 40-man roster right now are Seth Brown, Tyler Soderstrom, and Lawrence Butler. They all hit from the left side so there’s no obvious option for a platoon partner, Brown isn’t likely in the long-term plans for the team, and those last two would be playing out of position at first base, more so for Butler than Soderstrom. The team is about to enter Year 3 of the rebuild and is in the middle of the youth movement. Noda is a part of that movement and will likely get the bulk of the playing time at the position, but the club will be hoping Noda can take some serious steps entering his sophomore season. If not, the club’s eyes may begin wandering at some point during the season.