Fresno Grizzlies shortstop Nick Noonan is only 23-years old, but with five years of professional baseball under his belt, this Poway, California product is not your average minor leaguer. Drafted straight from high school in the supplemental round in 2007 (32nd overall), Noonan is in his first full season with Triple-A Fresno and is having his best all around year since his rookie season with AZL Giants. His current .297 average and 38 RBIs are both good enough for fourth best on the Grizzlies roster.
Let’s start from the beginning. Back in 2007 you were drafted straight out of high school. What were the decisions and factors that went into making that decision?
I think with where I was drafted at, you know, being in the supplemental round, I felt it was a really good opportunity for me to sign and get into the professional system with the Giants. It was a tough decision. I was committed to Clemson and they have a great program and a good head coach but I thought with where I was drafted at that I’d have a really good opportunity.
Do you think it was the confidence you had in your game coming out of high school that made you think that you could benefit more from signing rather than going to college?
I think so. I did really well in high school and did well in the summer ball tournaments and I’d always played well against good competition so I had good confidence. But on the other hand I didn’t really know what to expect if I were to sign. So when I got out there I just realized that it was still a game and everyone’s out there trying to do the best they can. So I just kind of played loose and it worked out well.
How difficult was that jump from high school to professional ball?
It was big for me because I’d be facing what would be the top pitcher in our area every single day and that was kind of an adjustment and for the first week I really struggled. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, what the heck did I do?” These pitchers all throw hard and all have curveballs. The adjustment period came and I settled in to get my confidence going.
What was that adjustment period? One year? Two years? How long until you were be able to say, “Okay, I’m in the groove of things here”?
I think from when I started, it probably took a couple weeks to get really comfortable with the level of talent there was and then over the years I’ve always felt pretty confident. When your not doing well you start to doubt yourself but I’ve learned to move past that now. When you struggle, that’s part of the game. But you always need to be aggressive and mentally focused and just prepared for anything. Just go out there and do what you do.
Through that first difficult week that was so tough for you, did you have any mentors that you could go to for words of advice, maybe your father or an old coach that has helped you through that?
Yeah my dad and my family are always there for me. During the off season I go home and I’m always calling my dad and mom and so it’s nice to hear voices to get confidence. And sometimes it’s just not even talking about baseball and getting your mind off of it and then you get back to playing ball. It’s always nice to have family and friends there. One of my best friends, Robert, has always supported me and it’s always good to hear those little words of advice. They’re big confidence boosters to get me through some tough times.
I heard you worked on some things during Spring Training that you told the Fresno Bee have really helped you this year. Can you elaborate a little more on some of those things you’ve worked on?
I just worked on being aggressive off the fastball. This year it’s worked out. Not doubting myself and getting up there every single at-bat and just being aggressive, in smart ways obviously, but I think just being ready to hit has led to a lot of good things this year and it’s really got me back on track.
Talk about the difference in the pitching moving from Double A to Triple A.
In Richmond there are a lot of power arms; a lot of guys that throw hard and I definitely struggled in Richmond. The Eastern League is a tough place to hit. The ballparks are big, it’s hot and humid, the ball doesn’t really fly that great. But for me, there were no excuses. I was swinging at bad pitches and rolling over on balls. I had to learn how to hit and be smart with the pitchers. Being up here in Triple-A the pitchers have a really good plan of how they’re going to get guys out and so far it seems like with being patiently aggressive I’ve been able to get my hits and get back on track.
Talk about ‘patiently aggressive.” Does that mean you just sit patiently on those fastballs and when you see one you don’t hesitate?
Sometimes I wouldn’t say just sitting on fastballs, just being ready to hit a fastball. It’s hard because even though you’re looking for fastballs to drive, you’re on other pitches too and that just carries over to being ready to hit, whether it's a fastball, a changeup or a slider. If I’m ready to hit and it’s in the zone, I’m ready to attack it and ready to do some damage with it.
Let’s go back to May 20: the day you had 8 RBIs. What was clicking for you that day?
It was a warm day in Texas and my first at-bat I saw a slider pretty well and I put a pretty good swing on it but actually fouled it off. Then he threw me another one and I just remember staying through the ball, so to speak. It’s kind of a common term in baseball for hitters, but I just felt like a was staying through the ball well that day. I got another slider and it was nice because I had a couple hits off a lefty which in the past has been kind of tough for me. That day I just kind of felt in the zone which was good, I swung at good pitches and stayed through it and happened to drive some.
Since that day, have you seen some changes in your confidence?
It was just one of those days that you can look back on and say, "Hey look, I can hang with anybody in this league.” If you don’t have that confidence, it’s going to be tough for anybody to hit here. Looking back on it, you just have to keep those days in your memory and know that I can hang with the best of them.
What are the biggest adjustments and improvements you know you have to make if you want to succeed in the big leagues?
I think adjustments are everywhere in the game. But specifically, lately in the last few games I’ve seen myself making changes from at-bat to at-bat. Whether a guy starts throwing in, backing off the plate a little bit or maybe I’m just ready for that inside pitch or the guy is throwing some sinkers away and I make the adjustment and go the other way. Seeing how they pitch me, I’ve got to make the adjustment right then and there, you can’t wait two at-bats or until the next game, you’ve got to be constantly ready to make those adjustments. I think just recently, for that example, is where I need to be.
Are there specific things you do, maybe in the cage or watching film, that you do to work specifically on that or on other things?
Yeah in the cage off of a tee, I’ll work away, on flips to work in and work on pulling the ball the right way, going opposite field the right way and not spinning off but driving balls and just putting good swings on them with the locations of different pitches.
How important is it for you as a hitter to be able to go both ways and be confident in doing so?
It’s huge. That opens the field up for a lot more hits. If you can only pull the ball, that only gives you fifty percent of the field. When that guy throws a sinker on the outside half and I can get a hit to left, now they’ve got to start pitching you and playing you different than what they thought they might be able to do. It’s no different than being able to play short or second or third. If you can hit it both ways it just improves your game that much more.
What would you say is the biggest strength of your game, and then to turn it around, what is your biggest weakness?
Strengths so far have been staying consistent within every spot that I’ve hit in the lineup this year. Whether it be hitting first or fifth or sixth, no matter what the situation has been I think I’ve kept a consistent approach and just worked on getting my hits and keeping the line moving for that next guy to come up and drive me in.
To be that consistent in each spot in the lineup, you must not have any superstitions on where you hit in the lineup.
Yeah I feel pretty comfortable with my approach and my personal ways of hitting, but like you said I have been superstitious in the past and I’ve hit well in the two hole and then moved down to hitting third and not hit as well and I’ve thought it was because I was hitting third. Well, you really only hit third for the first inning and then when you come up again you may hit fifth or sixth. So I’ve been really good at staying consistent and having that consistent approach.
Talk about a weakness, if you can think of one.
Weaknesses? Shoot, I don’t know. I know I have some…
Hey, if you can’t think of one maybe that’s a good thing. It says something about your confidence.
Well I’d like to work on some off-speed pitches. I’ve been getting hits on off-speed but to drive the ball with authority on an off-speed pitch is something that the great hitters can do and I think if I can do that more consistently, I can improve my game that much more.
One last question, we’ll stray away from baseball a bit. Other than something baseball related, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
Lately, I’ve been enjoying going up to Millerton Lake. Having a little barbeque, getting to swim in the water, we’ve done that three or four times and it’s been a lot of fun.
That’s something you do with some teammates?
Yeah me and my roommate Charlie Culberson and Skyler Stromsmoe. We go up there and have a little barbeque and swim in the lake a little bit. I golf a lot. I plan on golfing a lot during the all-star break, probably three or four times. It's just relaxing to enjoy a nice slow paced game.