Padres Prospect Interview: Rico Noel

San Diego Padres prospect Rico Noel is the type of player the team hopes to breed in their minor league system – an aggressive player that runs the bases well and can create damage through the use of his legs, a leadoff hitter extraordinaire. Noel showed he could be just what the Friars ordered in that regard.

Rico, what's it been like coming to the Northwest League? What's the transition really been like for you?

Rico Noel: It's a lot of transition going from metal bat to wood bat. It's a lot different just trying to get in there and get comfortable. A lot of things have to change, swing-wise. I'm making a lot of adjustments and it's going great so far.

What kind of adjustments do you have to make? Obviously, we know the aluminum bat swing is a little bit more forgiving than the wood bat.

Rico Noel: Exactly, it's just more forgiving – a metal bat - and when you get to this wood you have to get the barrel on the ball and be a lot more selective in the pitches you swing at. That's what I've been working on.

So with a metal bat you swung at totally different pitches than you are today?

Rico Noel: No, not so much, but knowing that you've got to be perfectly on time a lot with a wooden bat and just making sure that you're riding the groove and you're right on time. It helps a lot to know that.

What about the mechanics? We all know the aluminum bat you get that long swing. With a wood bat you're trying to get as much of the bat path through and a level field through that hitting zone.

Rico Noel: The mechanics don't change much. If you're a good college hitter with a metal bat you should be pretty consistent sometimes with a wooden bat. It doesn't always translate but, like you said, I wouldn't say the mechanics change that much just knowing you have to be more consistent and you're playing everyday and every day you come out here every day and have to do the same thing. It's pretty tough.

How's the hamstring?

Rico Noel: It's fine. A couple more days and I'll be alright. I'll be 100%.

Did that come from the day you swiped three bags in a game? Did it come that night?

Rico Noel: Maybe I overdid it that night. No, I just tweaked it a little bit – nothing serious. They just wanted to give me an extra day off to make sure it was fine and not try to push it or rush back. It'll be fine.

How has that aggressive attitude played into your game? Do you feel like you're taking advantage of the situations that you're presented with?

Rico Noel: Yes, definitely. That's how I've played my whole life. That's what's gotten me here to this point. I don't want to stop doing that at all. I think I need to actually be a little more aggressive. I haven't been running like I run a lot in college. I've just been taking it easy, but now I'm getting pretty comfortable, and I'm ready to go.

What kind of tricks of the trade are these guys like Shawn Wooten, Greg Riddoch, and Tom Bradley able to give you that maybe you didn't even consider?

Rico Noel: They know a lot, obviously, because they've been around the game for so long. They know how the transition is for a lot of college players. They've been helping out a lot. Certain things you need to be more consistent with your swing. Certain things you might get lazy with because when we grind it out every day some things might change day-to-day and you just make sure they get consistent every day, and it helps a lot to have those guys. They're very understanding.

In that dugout in between innings, whether you're watching the other pitcher throw, whatever is going on, how much talking is going on between you and Wooten and Riddoch and all the other teammates here?

Rico Noel: There's a lot of talking is going on and a lot of learning. Like you said, the transition is big and us college players go out there and try to learn everyday and get better. A lot of talking and coaching during the game, and it helps a lot.

What's the work been like in center field for you? How are you improving out there?

Rico Noel: I'm just doing the same thing I've always done. Get out there, react, get good jumps, and chase down balls. It's been going well so far, and I just want to continue doing it. I feel very comfortable out there, and it's been great.

We know you have great teammates. You're batting lead off. If you could take someone you've played with so far and stick him behind you second in the order to give you some protection who would it be and why?

Rico Noel: There are a lot of guys on our team who could do the job. I feel comfortable with a lot of them. Oscar Garcia does a great job and when I'm not in there he's the lead-off spot. That'd probably the one of the better choices – because of the righty, lefty. Luis Domoromo – he's a lefty too. There are a lot of guys up in the line-up.

There's no doubt. Give me one pitcher you like playing behind. Maybe he's got great tempo out there and keeps you involved in the game especially in center field.

Rico Noel: I don't know. We have a lot of good pitchers. I'm a big team guy and a lot of guys go out and do the job. That's all we want out there. I don't care who's on the bump I'm going to help them out and chase down balls like it's my last day playing on the field.

What's the off-season going to be like for you?

Rico Noel: A lot of hard work, for sure. I'm going to make sure I'm as good an athlete and an even better player next year when spring training comes around.

How does it change now that you don't have school? This is baseball; this is your life.

Rico Noel: It's a lot of time to get better. That time you have to wake up early in the morning to go to school you can wake up early in the morning and go to the cage. Get in there and do a lot of hard work and the whole day's yours to devote to baseball. That's what I've been waiting on my whole life that's what I've dreamed on doing my whole life and it's finally here.

When did you start playing?

Rico Noel: I can't even remember the first time I picked up a baseball. I wouldn't even know, but the first time I got on the field I was about 4 years old.

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