Bay Area Baseball

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March 29, 2013
Noonan makes his case for utility infield spot

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nick Noonan didn't have a locker at the Giants' big-league camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., after he was reassigned March 15. When the Giants brought him back a week later after cutting utility infielder candidate Wilson Valdez, Noonan spent the rest of spring reporting to the nearby minor-league facility, dressing there and then driving to Scottsdale Stadium.

On Thursday, though, Noonan walked into the Giants' clubhouse at AT&T Park to find a nameplate bearing his name above one of the lockers. With a late push and a likely need in San Francisco for a utility infielder, Noonan is playing out this weekend's exhibition series against the A's waiting to hear if he'll be on the 25-man roster come Opening Day.

"This is awesome," the 23-year-old Noonan said before the Giants' 7-3 loss to the A's on Thursday, looking around the clubhouse. "This is where I want to be, and hopefully more good things to come."

Noonan, the 32nd overall pick of the 2007 draft, was batting .194 when the Giants sent him down. But he finished Cactus League play on an 8-for-20 stretch including a 3-for-4 performance against Arizona on Wednesday.

Part of Noonan's appeal is his ability to play all three infield positions besides first base. The Giants are waiting to see whether they'll have to begin the season without Pablo Sandoval (elbow), and backup infield candidate Tony Abreu, a favorite for the utility infield job coming into camp, played in just one spring game because of a strained quad and stayed behind at extended spring training when the Giants came north.

"I like the way he's played the last part of spring training and the way he's handled himself," manager Bruce Bochy said of Noonan. "He can't do any more than what he's done. It's just a matter of what our needs are and the role that he would be in."

So Noonan continues to wait. He took ground balls at third base before Thursday's game and entered as a late-game replacement for shortstop Brandon Crawford, drawing a walk in his only at-bat.

Noonan said being reassigned in mid-March might have actually helped. He got more at-bats in minor-league games and, when he rejoined the Giants, he "felt pretty polished and ready to make a charge."

"I've been seeing the ball pretty early," he said. "That's always good when you can see the ball out of the hand. Good balance, and then just staying aggressive, swinging at good pitches. I've been fortunate enough to get some good ones and not miss them."

As a left-handed hitter, Noonan said he spent the spring watching first baseman Brandon Belt around the cage, noting how Belt handles left-handed pitching. He picked a timely study -- Belt hit .448 with eight home runs in Arizona.

"I just watch his balance," Noonan said. "He stays locked in with that front shoulder. He can really drive the ball to the opposite field. I felt like he's pretty polished in that aspect, so I just tried to pick up little things."

Noonan spent most of the 2011 season at Double-A Richmond, where he struggled with a .212 average in 71 games. A brief elevation to Triple-A actually seemed to help. Noonan went 11-for-37 with just two strikeouts, then spent all of last season in Fresno, batting .296 with 26 doubles, nine homers and 62 RBIs in 129 games.

Thursday was the first time he has traveled to AT&T Park for the exhibition games with the Giants. He said he drove to the park around 1:30 p.m. with his fiancée.

"We were both just kind of like, wow, this is the next step," Noonan said. "You can play around in the minor leagues. Once you get to the big leagues, it's the big leagues. Take a look around the city and the ballpark -- everything is bigger and better."

Should there be a locker with his name on it in the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium on Monday, Noonan said, "I'll probably take a picture." Did he take one of the nameplate at AT&T?

"Not this one," he said. "It's not official yet."

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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