Nick Noonan's journey from 1st round pick in the 2007 amateur baseball draft (32nd overall) to getting his first Major League start as a San Francisco Giant this week could be described as circuitous.
In the same way that Barry Zito's curve ball drifts up, describes a parabola, then drops through that 17 inch square target umpires hopefully recognize as a strike.
A star shortstop out of Parker High School in San Diego, Nick Noonan was San Francisco's 4th overall pick (a pitcher named Madison Bumgarner was 1st). Known as a very good contact hitter with speed, after signing with the Giants Noonan soon found himself on a minor league roller coaster ride in the field and at the plate.
It's unclear whether the Giants' organization simply didn't know where they wanted to play Noonan and 2006 1st round pick shortstop Emmanuel Burriss in the infield, or that the front office wanted both players to get experience at multiple positions. Because for some reason the decision was made to turn Noonan into a second baseman and Burriss into a shortstop.
For Nick Noonan, the switch seemed to have a negative effect on his hitting. In 2007 he hit .316 with a .809 OPS in 52 games (first as a shortstop then a second baseman). His numbers dropped in 2008 (.279/.730), then the bottom fell out.
From 2009 to 2011 Nick Noonan's hitting regressed : 2009-- .259 AVG/.727 OPS; 2010-- .237/.584; 2011 .229/.621. Particularly crazy was Noonan's 2011 season in professional baseball which found him at three different levels playing three different positions:
24 games at Single A+ San Jose as a third baseman, 3 games at second, 1 game at short. Then 71 games as a shortstop at Double A Richmond, and finally 13 games at shortstop for the Triple A Fresno Grizzlies. (At this point I just took a break to figure out where the hell I was in this piece.)
The turnaround came in 2012 when Noonan put up an improved slash line of .296/.347/.763 playing mostly shortstop for the Fresno Grizzlies. Then came Spring Training 2013.
The Giants had targeted 28 year old Tony Abreu as the guy they wanted to make the team out of Spring as a back-up infielder. Abreu, signed as an amateur free agent by the Dodgers in 2002, had six years of MLB experience at second, short and third base for the Dodgers, Arizona and Kansas City Royals. Giants GM Brian Sabean had Abreu on his radar for several years. looking for the right opening.
After only one two Spring at-bats Tony Abreu went on the DL with strained quadriceps, the other back-up candidates faded somewhat, and Nick Noonan stepped up. In 27 games and 68 at-bats Noonan put up a .796 OPS. Most important of all for the Giants, Noonan's minor league experience at short, second and third were just what the team needed from a back-up.
In the end, being on a defensive merry-go-round for six years and sticking with it paid off for Nick Noonan.
And how, you ask, did Noonan's first career Major League go? On Thursday April 11, 2013 Nick Noonan started at second base and went 3 for 5. Overall he's has five hits in 11 at-bats-- which slashes out at .455/.500/.455.