Sunday, April 22, 2012

Can 2012 Be Bounce Back Campaigns for Juan Perez and Nick Noonan?

Wow...12 days. Can't really apologize for that long a lay-off, especially considering my history (it would be like Rick Pitino apologizing for another relationship out of wedlock). But, with school being what it is here, and my responsibilities to Seedlings 2 Stars, posting here has been more difficult than usual. Hopefully though, I can get back into the swing of things here at OTF. I will be having a recap of general Minor League performances later this week, and should finish off the rankings for good. Of course, considering my inconsistencies with posting, I will make no guarantees (though I will make guarantees to bitch about how much I'm frustrated with the Brandon Belt situation on Twitter...sorry it couldn't be helped).

Two players who have really jumped out to me to begin the year in 2012 are Juan Perez and Nick Noonan. Both were Top-30 prospects according to Baseball America going into 2011 who fell out of the rankings after lackluster years in Double-A Richmond. However, they have regrouped to have solid starts to begin the 2012 year and one has to wonder if they are in the process of regaining their once-lofty prospect statuses. That being said, are their starts legitimate signs of progress? Or are they just good months that are flashes in the pan?

Let's take a look on the outlook for Perez and Noonan for the remainder of the season.

Juan Perez, Outfielder

Age: 25
Current Team: Richmond Flying Squirrels

2012 numbers: .317 average, .359 OBP, .400 slugging percentage, .759 OPS, 10 runs scored, one home run, three stolen bases, three walks, 14 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances (through 16 games).

Why is Perez's Hot Start Promising?

A late-blooming prospect (Perez didn't break into professional ball until he was 23), Perez has the makings of an Andres Torres-esque player (and I liked Torres a lot when he was a Giant). Despite his diminutive stature (he's five-feet, 11 inches and a 185 pounds), he sports decent pop in his bat (he hit 13 home runs in San Jose in 2010) and good speed on the basepaths (he stole 22 bases on 28 attempts in 2011 in Richmond). Even though he struggled in the transition from the California League to the Eastern League last year (he posted a slash of .256/.303/.381 in 497 plate appearances), he has bounced back in a repeat campaign this year, as he is sporting a slash of .317/.359/.400 through 17 games.

With Gary Brown struggling on the offensive end, Perez has been the main catalyst for the Flying Squirrels offense, as he has scored 10 runs and stolen three bases on four attempts. He also has a home run and two doubles, a sign that the power that he displayed in the California League in 2010 wasn't a complete fluke. While it is still early in the year, the solid start in his second year in the EL, along with a good campaign in Spring Training bodes good things for Perez who fell off the radar after the 2011 season. If he continues to build on this solid start, he could be a candidate to move up to Fresno at some point this year, especially if someone gets injured in the Giants outfield.

What Should Giants Fans Expect from Perez for the Remainder of 2012?

Despite the gaudy slash line, Perez's performance has been far from perfect. The biggest concern has been his eye at the plate, which has been raw and unrefined as a professional. Last year, Perez posted a BB/K ratio of 0.29 and this year hasn't been better, despite his familiarity with Eastern League pitching. His BB/K ratio is currently 0.21, highlighted by 14 strikeouts. Add this with a contact rate of 76 percent, and one has to wonder if Perez will ever be able to make consistent enough contact as a professional to be a legitimate Major League player.

That being said, those aspects were concerns of Torres as a professional. However, pre-injury, Torres was able to be a productive player for the Giants during their 2009 and 2010 campaigns. While Torres had a much more patient eye at the plate than Perez, he was also older (Torres was in his early thirties prior to his breakout) and actually was around the same percentage contact-wise. Sans his 2010 campaign in San Jose where he was caught 15 times on 32 attempts, Perez has sported solid speed and efficiency on the basepaths and could be at the very least a platoon player at the Major League level in addition being a solid pinch-running option off the bench. There still is a long way to go for Perez, but his solid April in Richmond is a promising start for the 25-year-old outfielder.

Nick Noonan, Infielder

Age: 22
Current Team: Fresno Grizzlies

2012 numbers: .333 average, .370 OBP, .381 slugging, .751 OPS, 5 runs scored, 1 stolen base, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances.

Why is Noonan's Hot Start So Promising?

Noonan was once a top prospect who held Chase Utley comparisons until he started struggling at the plate starting in 2009 in San Jose. After two lackluster campaigns in Richmond (his Double-A career slash is .226/.290/.297), the Giants decided to move Noonan up to Triple-A to give him a change of pace and scenery. So far, the move has paid off, as Noonan has put up a .751 OPS in 13 games (his previous high OPS was .727 in 2009 in San Jose).

The biggest improvement for Noonan to begin the 2012 year has been his plate approach, as he is currently sporting a BB/K ratio of 0.75. Noonan has always produced good approaches at the plate, for he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.67 and 0.55 in San Jose and Richmond, respectively in 2011. However, considering his campaigns in San Jose and Richmond were repeats of those levels, the fact that he is carrying his disciplined approach to the next level is a promising sign. Furthermore, Noonan has displayed a strong ability to make contact against Pacific Coast League pitching, as his contact rate currently sits at 90 percent for the year. Considering that his career contact rate in Double-A was 78 percent, this is a nice indicator that Noonan is finally honing his approach and abilities at the plate after so many years of disappointing performances in the minors over his professional career.

What Should Giants Fans Expect from Noonan for the Remainder of 2012?

Despite Noonan's nice start at the plate, his defensive play has been a different story. With Charlie Culberson a mainstay at the keystone position and Conor Gillaspie holding down the hot corner, Noonan has flip flopped between shortstop and third base with the Grizzlies in 2012. However, the results have not been good, as he has committed four errors already and is sporting a fielding percentage of .852. If Noonan continues to hit, it is likely that he will get more playing time and thus more opportunities in the field, which naturally will raise his fielding percentage. That being said, Noonan hasn't showed the Giants brass or Grizzlies' coaching staff that his glove merits regular playing time at a certain position so far this year.

Also, while Noonan is obviously performing much better in Triple-A than in Double-A, one has to wonder if his hot start is a true measure of improvement, or if it is proof of the old Brian Sabean-adage that "Triple-A Pitching isn't very good." While it is typical to see top position prospects see extended time in the PCL or IL (International League), the same doesn't ring true for pitchers, as top pitching prospects spend little to no time at all in Triple-A before they make the jump from Double-A to the Majors. Sure, Noonan may be hitting in Fresno, but he might be doing so against Quad-A pitchers or guys who are simply lifetime Minor Leaguers in the Matt Kinney and Kevin Pucetas mold.  Hence, Noonan might be able to sustain the hot start he's built in 2012. Unfortunately, unless his glove work gets better, a solid 2012 campaign might not be a sign that he's ready for the Major Leagues, but rather an example of why PCL stats (especially ones in Fresno) should always be taken with a grain of salt.

1 comment:

  1. Noonan had what I thought was a breakout in the second half of his first season in San Jose. Basically, it is much like what he is doing in AAA right now: not striking out much, BB/K ratio very high, near the 1.0 the best hitters reach. That was 2009, second half, which we can't see now, but was available at that great minor league stats site that no longer is updated.

    Since then, he had been pretty much overmatched in AA.

    But remember, only the best prospects even make AA by age 22, which he was last season. He's still only 23 and doing well in AAA, we have to remember that he's younger than the competition right now, and yet doing well against them.

    Plus, we have to remember how hard it is to hit in the Eastern League. Seems to me that only the best prospects figure out how to hit there, but the tweeners and below just suffer there.

    I also think the comparisons with Utley did him a disservice, setting expectations too high (too be more precise, what was said then was that he was viewed as an Utley-lite, in that he could be like Utley except for the power). Partly because when people hear Utley, they then don't hear the "lite", and then think HR power.

    He's becoming too much of a Burriss, though, in that his power is almost non-existent. Do you know if he had some bad injury to his legs in 2009? His stolen bases and ISO had sharp drops after that nice, what I thought breakout, half season in 2009 (I can dig up the stats if you like). And have stayed down ever since, I thought he was going to be good for double digits in triples, homers, and SB early on.

    Plus, he did the video training system same time as Belt and said back then that he was hitting more line drives back then, but his ISO is even worse this season, so far.

    Of course, he might be a tweener like Nate. Nate usually struggled with his promotion, so what he appeared to do, based on his stat pattern, was first focus on learning how to hit at his new level, so his batting average would be pretty good, but his ISO and thus SLG was not so great. Then once he got his legs in that league, he would then figure out how to hit for HR power once he got hitting down.

    Maybe Noonan is like that?

    I think the only reason he's playing SS and 3B in recent years is because Culberson had risen above him as a prospect, and so they wanted Charlie playing at the position they hope he makes the majors in, which was 2B, which left SS and 3B for Noonan to play. Plus, at the rate he was going, being a utility player who can play a lot of positions was his best hopes of making the majors, much like Burriss.

    But the good news is that he's still very young, and with Franchez probably gone in 2013, both Burriss and Culberson (and probably Gillaspie) will be battling for the 2B position that year, and Panik don't look like he's going to force his way into AAA for 2013 either, so Noonan might get to start at 2B again in 2013 at Fresno.

    I'm still hopeful for Noonan, nice to see him doing well, but he still have a lot to prove still to make the majors.