Winning an organizational award is a quite an accomplishment. To win two in one season is downright special. Former Lake Elsinore Storm center fielder, Rico Noel, was recently honored as the San Diego Padres 2012 organizational Baserunner of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
“It was great. It shows the preparation and effort I put on the field. My hard work has paid off. It definitely was a positive step in my career,” Noel said. “The previous year, I took my mom out there with my uncle. This year, I was able to take my older brother and father. They got to see Petco for the first time. It was really exciting to show them the city.”
In 2011, Noel earned his first Defensive Player of the Year award while stealing 62 bases in 67 tries. Last season, he shattered the previous Storm franchise record (72) and swiped 90 bags — third most in Minor League Baseball.
“I definitely was a lot more aggressive last year,” Noel said. “The previous year, I swiped 62. I was just trying to push myself. My goal was 100, and I fell a little short. But I will take 90 bags.
Normally 90 stolen bases would lead the league, but Noel’s friend and fellow California League player, Billy Hamilton of the Bakersfield Blaze, set a professional baseball record with 155 stolen bases last season.
“I don’t really get caught up in that. The top bases stealers always get compared. We both are trying to get to the Big Leagues, and that’s where my focus is at.”
If one were to ask Noel’s teammates who appreciates his game the most, the pitching staff would be first in line to tell you.
“Saving a double in the gap, saving a run for a pitcher, is a really special thing,” Noel said. “It is a team game. And when you can steal a base, save the ERA, taking every pitch the same no matter the situation and having the same mindset at all times is definitely the key. Defense is a priority in our organization. I take pride in my defense, and it has come along way.”
In 2012, Noel made the transition to switch hitting, adding the left-handed batting stance to his already impressive arsenal of tools. By doing this, Noel has transformed his game and increased his chances of breaking through to the Major Leagues.
“Last year was my first season as a switch hitter. I have worked really hard this offseason. Last year I surprised a lot of people. I’ve had the right coaches around me to speed up the progress, and I am happy with my result so far.”
Baseball season to the players means you are away from family and friends for an extended period of time. This can be wearing on a player, so it’s key to have a good time and remain upbeat.
“When I’m not playing baseball, I play ping pong, video games, (watch) movies, (hang) out with my buddies and teammates and just (have) a good time on and off the field,” Noel said.
Noel’s time with the Storm was a memorable experience, which was highlighted with a California League Championship in 2011.
“I love the Storm organization because they are like a family,” Noel said. “The management, Chris and Dave, are awesome. They definitely took us in and were always around for us and took care of us. I love the fans, and it’s always a great atmosphere at The Diamond. I really enjoyed my time in Elsinore, especially with my host family. It was nice to do my job without any problems and take care of business day in and day out.”
The off-season is a critical time in a player’s year to improve their game and advance their career opportunity. It is a time where a player must remain focused.
“Success is made in the offseason, and your career is made in the off-season,” Noel said. “Everything that goes into the season – I try and see what I need to get better on, and I also focus on my strengths. I lived in Myrtle Beach during the off-season. I trained with my friend, and I’m ready to go.”
As Spring Training hits full speed, Noel is looking forward to the task at hand and showcasing his ability.
“I got into a couple Big League games this spring. It was fun being in the dugout watching the guys, picking up the routine — going about their business and how they carry themselves,” Noel said. “It helps with your career in the future. (I’m) trying to grab some of that and use it, ’cause they are obviously up there for a reason.”
After being honored in back-to-back seasons, Storm and Padres’ fans can root on the speedy center fielder to a three-peat in 2013.