The most impressive aspect of Rico's year in the Cal League was that it was his first season ever as a switch-hitter, which is rather a late start for any player. Despite having to learn on the job and still put up numbers he didn't do too bad hitting .256 against right-handed pitchers.
The extra work and the constant pounding on his legs did take its on the slight Noel as he wore down in the second half only hitting .231/.356/.273 as compared to .304/.359/.333 in the fist.
He still ended up posting solid numbers, played in 134 games and was selected as the organization's top defensive outfielder. So while Noel would be the first to tell you that his overall game is very much a work in progress, he would also tell you that he is right on track.
When we have spoken with you before, and with others about your game, your athleticsm always comes up but their biggest compliments about you is the mental approach that you have to the game.
So my question to you is why were you not a switch-hitter much earlier in your career?
Rico Noel: [laughing] Growing up you are always trying to make a team and I thought it was too big a risk to flip to the other side and even thought it was too late in junior high.
I was always successful hitting right-handed and thought it would take too long to develop.
How much were you screwing around with hitting from the left side before you committed to it?
As you pointed out starting it up in High-A is a pretty big risk.
Rico Noel: The biggest thing that helped me was that you when you start at this level you have an advanced mind set when it comes to hitting. So when you start up really working on it as opposed to just messing around you don't have any bad habits. Also we have some really good coaches that help you build and refine your approach.
I just focussed on my swing and the last thing that came was my coordination. I wasn't going to up there and try to pull the ball to start off. I just tried to hit my soft line drives the other way.
What was the biggest adjustment. Was it the power hand being on the bottom as opposed to the top?
Rico Noel: That was a big thing. When you are a switch-hitter you are going to have two different swings. My biggest downfall was my top hand was too weak from the left side so this off-season I did a lot of strength training with the bat with a donut on the bat.
Just swing, swing, swing to let my body get used to it.
Right-handers who bat from the left side, where there power hand is on the bottom seem to have an easier time going the opposite way and hitting the ball to left. Is that true with you?
Rico Noel: Definitely, I can stay back a little longer on the ball and its natural to go to that side.
You stole 90 bases last year in 113 attempts which is a great percentage but for you actually a little high. Did you start last year with the idea of being more aggressive?
Rico Noel: My goal last year was to get 100 and test myself. My first couple of years I've always been really good with the percentage but..
You know I'm not knocking you, its just before you were close to perfect.
Rico Noel: Exactly that is what I am saying but I also wanted to test my limits. Getting caught twenty-three times wasn't that bad and a lot of them were pickoffs where I got caught in a rundown. I want to tone that down this year.
On the other side the minute you get on first it has to be difficult because everyone in the stadium knows that you are going. Not a whole lot of the element of surprise.
Rico Noel: There is no element of surprise because I am going. They know I am going to go and I know I am going to go. Its their best against your best and you have to beat them. Its just how it is.
That has to be a great feeling of, "I'm taking second and there isn't a whole lot anyone is going to do about it."
Rico Noel: [laughs] Well, you kind of have to be like that if you want to run. They know you are going and you think there is too much attention on me or you aren't going to steal very many.
You want to be aggressive, pick your spots and understand the game as much as you can.
Is it easier for you to steal third as opposed to second because its tougher for them to restrict your lead?
Rico Noel: You always have to be ready to go on second but on the other side you are already in scoring position. So there are only certain situations where you want to take that risk and if you do, you better make it.
our defense, because of your switch-hitting and stolen bases, kind of gets overlooked. You were the teams defensive outfielder of the year last year.
You were good when you came into the system what did you do to improve?
Rico Noel: Taking my eye off the ball and being able to run with my head down and then pick it up again.
You see it off the bat and watch it for two or three steps and then you should have a good idea of where it is going to be, so take five or six more steps and then pick it up again.
This past year they let you stay in center much more. Which must be more comfortable for you since that is where you grew up?
Rico Noel:I do like being in center but I only moved there in my sophomore year of college because I was always a middle infielder growing up. I played second base my freshman year and our coach at Coastal Carolina loved speed in center, and we had a lot of second basemen, so he asked me to try it.
It just came natural to me.
Have you ever thought of trying second to get more versatility?
Rico Noel: They haven't talked to me about it but I'm pretty open to trying things.
What are some of the biggest goals you are working on this season?
Rico Noel: As with everyone I'm just trying to get more consistent. I need to cut down on my strikeouts and put the ball in play more. If I put the ball in play more I will get on base more and that is my game.
Left-handed hitting is feeling more comfortable?
Rico Noel: Yes, because its all about the off-season work you put in. Some slack with it but I don't.
The goal is to get better everyday.