Friday, May 6, 2011

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 25, Nick Noonan, 2B

Nick Noonan is another prospect (much like Henry Sosa, No. 26 on the list), who's stock has taken a considerable plunge over the past couple of seasons. Unlike some experts who think Noonan probably won't live up to the hype he garnered when he was drafted No. 32 in the 2007 MLB Draft, I still think Noonan has a chance to carve out a good professional career in the future. He just won't be the "high-ceiling star" a lot of Giants fans christened him to be early on in his career.

Noonan was drafted out of high school, playing ball in the San Diego area (a very competitive region for high school baseball...then again, most of California is). Scouts had a lot of praise to say about Noonan, especially offensively, as chronicled in a 2007 post by Obsessive Giants Compulsive.

Here is what a couple of NL scouts said in their reports about him:

"Every time you watch him, you get a better appreciation for him and what he can do. He does everything smooth and easy..."
[One NL Scout] considers Nick one of the top high school hitters in Southern California: "I've seen him hit 95 MPH like it's 75 MPH. He has a quick bat and exceptional knowledge of the strike zone. Nothing fazes him. He's just a cool customer - a true baseball player...."

When the Giants got him at No. 32 in the supplemental round, it was considered a steal of sorts. Yes, Noonan was still young and had a lot of development to do as a player. That being said, the Giants could afford to wait, and Noonan seemed to have the tools to succeed.

Noonan came onto the scene fast, hitting pretty well in the Arizona Rookie League. In 224 plate appearances in 2007, he hit .316 with an .809 OPS and three home runs, 40 RBI and had 18 stolen bases on 21 attempts. The impressive campaign by the 18-year-old in the 52 game stretch only added to the hype surrounding Noonan, as the second baseman was on most Giants writers and bloggers Top 10 prospects lists going into the 2008 season.

While he didn't excel like he did in the Rookie League, his time in the SALLY still proved to be a respectable stint for Noonan statistically. While his BB/K ratio fell from an impressive 0.60 in Arizona to 0.23 in Augusta, and his OPS dipped from .809 to .730, Noonan did hit nine home runs, drove in 48 RBI, and stole 29 bases on 33 attempts in 119 games in 532 plate appearances. While the high number of strikeouts (19.6 percent strikeout rate) and low walks (4.3 walk percentage) did alarm some scouts, many felt that his offensive upside, decent power and ability to swipe bags at efficient rate boded well for his future. Futhermore, the fact that he did this as a 19 year old was even more impressive, and the thought was that Noonan's plate approach would get better as he acquired more at-bats and more professional experience.

Unfortunately, 2009 in San Jose didn't exactly prove to be kind to Noonan. While playing on a team stacked with talent such as Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Conor Gillaspie, Thomas Neal and Darren Ford, Noonan didn't exactly stand out in a crowded pool. He hit only .259 with a .727 OPS and seven home runs and 64 RBI. What was most concerning was his dip in stolen bases, as he had only 9 on 14 attempts after swiping 29 in the SALLY. (Of course, he probably wasn't needed to steal bases with Ford on the roster, but nonetheless...the dip was big, especially considering he played five more games in San Jose than Augusta.)

Much like his 2008 campaign in Augusta, many fans remained positive about Noonan's potential, citing his age, an improvement in BB/K ratio (0.49) and a strong finish in the California League (he hit .292 in August and .310 in September) as promising signs that made up for his regressing OPS, slugging and stolen base numbers from the previous seasons.

In 2010, the Giants organization decided to move up Noonan to Richmond along with Neal, Gillaspie, Ford, Brandon Crawford and Roger Kieschnick. The move was a bit rash, since Noonan statistically didn't show anything in San Jose that merited a promotion to Double-A. As expected, the Eastern League proved to be overwhelming for the 21 year old as he hit .237 with a career low .584 OPS and three home runs and 26 RBI in 406 plate appearances with the Flying Squirrels. The improvement he also showed in plate approach in San Jose went out the window as well, as Noonan had a 0.30 BB/K ratio and a career low .266 wOBA. The lackluster season in Double-A killed Noonan's rankings with experts, as John Sickels, who had him ranked as the 13th best player in the Giants system going into 2010, left him off the list completely going into 2011.

This year, Noonan's back in Double-A, and he is off to an okay start (thanks to a big game last night, where he hit a home run in each game of a double-header with New Britain). Currently, he is hitting .246 with a .701 OPS and two home runs and seven RBI in 70 plate appearances. Noonan still has some issues at the plate (he has struck out 15 times this year), but the showing of power this early is nice, and hopefully he can continue to build upon this with a year of the Eastern League already down his belt.

In my opinion, there is still a lot to like about Noonan. There was a whole lot of "Chase Utley" comparisons early-on in his career, and to me, those expectations seemed to be quite lofty and perhaps unfair. Noonan, while inconsistent with the bat, has flashed good defensive skills in the minors, as he has a career fielding percentage of .969 and range factor of 4.74 in 392 games in the minors. If he can be at least "replacement level" offensively (or better yet, slightly above, though I'll settle with "replacement level"), then he could have a future as a utility player in the Mike Fontenot mold because of his defensive ability. As far as developing beyond that comparison though is questionable at best.

Sure, Noonan is still young (he just turned 22 on May 4th), so he has that going for him. That being said, he needs to have a massive change offensively (both in approach and production) if he ever wants to recapture that promise he garnered after his solid AZL campaign in 2007. Considering how he's done so far in 115 games in Double-A, it's probably unlikely he'll bounce back to that "top 20 Giants prospect" status again (though I certainly wouldn't rule it out completely).


  1. Out of the prospects that Giants fans are down with, Noonan is one of the ones I'm still very positive on (I would throw RafRod in there as well).

    You paint his prospect picture pretty accurately, so I understand the downside. I would add that the phrase was "Utley-lite", in that he would provide a similar package but without the power of Utley, with homers in the teens. I, personally, would not back away from that as his ceiling still. Also, I would bump up his ranking as well if he can stick at SS, which the Giants are trying him out at this season.

    I agree with his need for massive change offensively, and according to an article, I think by Baggarly earlier this season, about the Giants video training system used to change Brandon Belt's batting, Noonan did do this, using the system, and one of the quotes was something like, now I'm hitting line drives. If he can bring that to the plate and execute it like Belt, I think he will show up on people's rankings next season. But even without change, I think he could have made majors if he should prove capable at SS (according to reports, he continued to keep up his skills there even while playing 2B)

    I would cut Noonan some slack regarding what he has done, up to maybe the other day when he hit two homers. He was out injured and basically was catching up with other hitters and pitchers for a few weeks. I would start his clock after those two games, and monitor how he does after that.

    I think Noonan suffers from the hype that you noted. People hear "1ST ROUND supplemental" and they only hear the 1st Round, plus he was considered a steal where we got him. He is actually on track for a nice complementary starting player career track, his record only looks bad for making the majors as a star, which the Utley comparison's didn't help.

    The way I see it, he figured out how to hit against players 4 years older than he was, on average, in 2009, at the end of the season (it was his 19 YO season, avg age P was 23.0). Too bad it is gone, but the minor league splits website showed that he went from near zero BB/K ratio that has marked his career, to at or near 1.0 BB/K in the last two months of the season, when his batting line rocked.

    He is not a natural, which one should expect when the guy is not drafted in the first 5 picks of the draft. He is not a quick learner against better competition. But as Ron Shandler's books have taught me, once a prospect exhibits a skill, it is there, it is a matter of getting him to repeat it consistently.

    So I think the skill is there, it is just a matter of giving him enough development time to bring that out. And I hate to give the Utley comparison again, but as great as he has been, people forget that he was a late developer, didn't make majors until 24, starter by 26. I think that is a good timetable for Noonan, particularly if he can stick at SS, and he's only 22 now.

    And again, hate to bring up Utley, but, his career batting line is .293/.380/.514/.894. I think high 200's, like .280 is doable for Noonan, plus walks, putting him around .360 OBP, plus slight power, putting him around .380 SLG, which makes him .750 OPS. In 2010, NL 2B hit .265/.333/.387/.720, SS .266/.325/.388/.713. So he could probably hit in the .260 range and be OK in the majors as a starter, which is all we really need, someone to play that position OK while Sandoval, Posey, Belt, and Brown generates the offense.

  2. Good points as always OGC. Your input and insight on this blog is informative and invaluable.

    I agree on his stats so far this year, which is why I deemed it "okay" rather than "mediocre" like some people would by just looking at his statline. His injury definitely put him back a little, but if yesterday was any indication, maybe he's starting to get rid of the kinks that any baseball player would have to get rid of in Spring Training and in the early season.

    I too am still pretty high on Noonan. I think it's a bit disappointing that people have thrown in the towel on him so quickly. You're probably on something when you mention that he was getting too much hype for a "first round" pick when they don't really understand the "supplemental" aspect. He's not a prospect on the caliber of Posey or Bumgarner, and yet he somehow got lumped in that category to some people because they think "he went first round! He must be an elite prospect!" (Case in point, Wendell Fairley was a first round supplemental pick but on a talent-end, he wasn't even close to being a first round pick).

    I have read some pieces that he's hitting more line drives this year (I think you mentioned this) and he did have a solid last couple of months in San Jose when he was much younger than the rest of the competition. I kinda wish they kept him in San Jose at least to start the year in 2010 so he could have built on that confidence he had at the end of 2009. However, what happened, happened, and now Noonan has to prove himself again in Richmond.

    I think "Utley-lite" is a good comparison. I certainly think he can be a utility infielder (He is capable of playing shortstop from what I've read in scouting reports...just the arm is an issue), and I think he could put up respectable averages like you mentioned. He's probably good for 8-12 home runs a year, which is good enough in my mind considering his defense. I just hope he can show the plate approach he showed in the Rookie League and San Jose (where his BB/K ratios were over 0.55) this season. If he can, I think he can still be a valuable prospect and one that can fill in the void when Freddy Sanchez moves on.