MadFriars' Interview: Rico Noel

FORT WAYNE: Rico Noel,22, was drafted in the fifth round by the San Diego Padres in the 2010 draft after three years at Coastal Carolina University. In his last season with the Chanticleer's ( A Chanticleer is a type of gamecock from Chauncer's Canterbury Tales) he hit .349/.472/.592 with 56 stolen bases in 69 attempts.

In his first year in professional baseball with the short-season Eugene Emeralds he hit .277/.426/.357 with 14 stolen bases in 17 attempts.

Because of his strong play the Padres assigned him to Lake Elsinore to begin the year where he struggled hitting .210/.313/.270 before being sent down to Fort Wayne.

After struggling initially he turned it around in the second half hitting .277/.357/.349 to finish up at .253/.345/347 with fifty stolen bases in fifty four attempts.

The strength of the 5'9" Noel's game is his speed and plus defensive ability in center field, although according to TinCaps manager Shawn Wooten his best asset is the intelligent approach he brings to the game, especially on the basepaths.

Overall between Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne he stole 62 bases and was only caught five times.

You had a tough first half in Lake Elsinore and here but you turned it around in the second half. What were the reasons?

Rico Noel: The difference was getting my swing right. The first half I was making a lot of adjustments and it was hard. I probably just could have sat there and got a little better but not the type of improvement that is going to help me down the road.

The second half it just started to come together.

I'm sure there are several technical things you can talk about but what were some of the bigger changes that you made?

Rico Noel: The biggest one was getting my swing flatter which helped me to not pop out as much. I really wanted to get back to hitting line drives and hard ground balls.

I always think its tough to be a leadoff hitter because you are kind of being told two different things. The first is to not put the ball on the air because you make your living with your legs but if you don't drive the ball, or put it in the air, its "he has no power."

Rico Noel: That is just how it works. But if you stick to the line drive ground ball approach you will get the gap shots for extra-bases.

The other night when you hit three doubles you said the ball was up and you got on top of it You weren't trying to hit for power is that the type of power you are talking about?

Rico Noel: Exactly. Just trying to hit the ball where it is pitched. You get in trouble when you try to create things.

You are in center here as opposed to left in Lake Elsinore. Is it more natural for you to be in center where you can run and get anything that you can as opposed to having to defer to someone in left?

Rico Noel: Well left is pretty big in Lake Elsinore so that wasn't that big a problem. But yes center is where I am most comfortable but I will play anywhere which is what you need to be able to do as you go up.

Here they seem to be really big on working on bunting. Do you get many chances in games to do it?

Rico Noel: The other team really tries to take it away from me but when I have an opportunity I will run.

The statistic that you have that really jumped out at me is how few times you have been caught stealing. You have nearly fifty steals here and its not that big a secret that you are going to be running when you are on.

How are you so successful when everyone in the park knows you are going?

Rico Noel: You have to be aggressive but be patient at the same time. The guys behind me are the three, four and five hitters so they are going to get me in. If they are really holding you on tight, you have to stay put, but when the opportunity is there I take it.

I really pride myself on not getting thrown out and this year I've been able to accomplish that.

I talked to Shawn Wooten earlier in the day and he really liked that part of your game. He said that not only do you have the ability to run but knew when to do it. He even has you working with some of the other players on base running.,p> Where did you learn this from coaches or is it just something you developed on your own?

Rico Noel: Its probably a combination. I've been playing this way my whole life and if you do something long enough you get better at it by making minor adjustment as you go.

At Coastal Carolina they have a great program and I learned a lot of baserunning techniques.

How did you end up going to Coastal Carolina?

Rico Noel: I'm from Louisiana but my Dad was in the military so we moved around a lot. I ended up going to high school in Oklahoma and at one of the showcases that I went to Coastal Carolina happened to be in attendance and they wanted to talk to me.

I didn't know who they were at the time but it was a rising program and it worked out great for me.

This is your first full year in the pro game. What is the biggest difference between this and the college game?

Rico Noel: Definitely the wooden bat. It takes some time to get used too because I hadn't used one that much with the exception of summer leagues. But coming out here everyday has really helped and I have improved.

Is it different too because of the amount of games. In college if you have a bad weekend you can have a few days to clear your head. Here you don't have that and it seems real easy to get into slumps.

Rico Noel: You just have to stay mentally strong. The mental aspect is the biggest thing. If you don't have the fire and passion to come out here and play everyday then you probably aren't going to make it.

Even in the first half I was positive because I knew I was making the adjustments to get better.

Going into the off-season what is the biggest thing you are going to work on?

Rico Noel: Mainly what I am doing now. Just keep good work habits and get better.

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