Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson played most of his career at 5 feet 11 inches, 180-pounds. Rico Noel, the Padres’ highly touted prospect, is listed on the Lake Elsinore Strom’s Website at 5 feet 9 inches, 175 pounds.
Henderson, Major League Baseball’s all-time stolen base leader, had 189 stolen bases in his first three Major League seasons. Noel is a base stealing hound, having stole nearly 170 bases in just three Minor League seasons.
The ageless Henderson is the greatest leadoff hitter to ever play the game.
Noel’s game is tailored for the leadoff spot in the lineup, and just may be the Padres’ best Minor League leadoff hitter in the organization’s history.
Henderson played three seasons for the Padres. Noel enters his third season in the Padres’ organization.
The similarities don’t end there, but it is obvious why a scout once compared the 24-year old Noel to the legendary outfielder.
“That’s kind of bold to put me in the same sentence as Rickey Henderson,” said Noel, the Padres’ 2012 Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.
“That’s a person I definitely have watched, and actually, my first baseball card was a Rickey Henderson. I was a big Rickey Henderson fan, I mean, how you can not be?”
Noel knows the comparisons are there, but insists he is not worried about them. He is just focused on his game.
Although, he admits that sometimes he hypes himself up by talking to himself, like Henderson is famous for doing.
The high school football star from Lawton, Okla., has all the tools to be a successful Major Leaguer. And last year upon the advice of the Padres, he added switch-hitting to his arsenal, which already includes blazing speed, outstanding defense, and cannon for an arm.
If there is a flaw to the young outfielder’s game, it is his power, but Noel knows hitting for power is not who he is.
“I’m not really concerned with that,” Noel said. “That’s not going to be part of my game in the near future. As for power numbers, I am not going to be the guy that’s going to hit home runs. I’d rather take my extra base hits and use my will to run on the base paths and play good defense. That’s really where my game is at.”
Last year at Single-A Lake Elsinore, Noel boasted a .270 batting average with no home runs, 30 RBIs and an astonishing 90 stolen bases.
He said this season-he would like to be more consistent at switch-hitting.
Noel was drafted by the Padres in the fifth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Coastal Carolina University.
After getting some recruiting offers as a football player in high school, Noel ultimately chose to give up the sport all together to focus on a career playing baseball.
Noel knows his dream of playing in the Big Leagues is coming.
“I definitely want to make it in the next year or so,” he said. “I’m already 24 years old but I have to stay patient because I’m a new switch-hitter and I have to get more consistent.”
Only time will tell if the Padres have the next Rickey Henderson on their hands.