Photo credit: TCP Photography/Courtesy Lake County Captains
Driven to provide for his family based on his life experiences, Noel’s belief that his family deserves better is the source of his strong competitive spirit and business-like attitude on the field. He’s extremely straightforward about the hard times his family frequently faced during his childhood. The 6’3 slugger is outgoing, intelligent, and articulate with his English for someone that started learning the language in his late teens.
Having an older brother that played professional baseball as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Noel had a source of advice, inspiration, and everything else an older brother could personify. The 20-year-old first baseman’s favorite player growing up was David Ortíz, saying that the joy he emitted and the competitive spirit he proudly displayed when he played the game made it attractive.
A shortstop as an amateur before moving to first and third as a professional, the tall and lanky individual believes that he could play any position on the diamond except pitcher or catcher.
Noel’s professional career started during the 2018 season with 64 games in the Dominican Summer League at the age of 16 years old. In comparison to his other peers at first who played in the DSL that summer, Noel’s results seem unimpressive, but he put up a 129 wRC+ on a .243/.357/.431 slash line while being the second youngest first basemen in the DSL that year.
He was second among his fellow first basemen in the league in home runs (10) and ISO% (.188). In 2019, he played 47 games with Cleveland’s affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League at the age of 17 years old, posting a 114 wRC+ on a .287/.349/.455 slash line. He turned heads in the AZL with surprising athleticism for someone his size and his adeptness around the bag at first base, showing some range and even being able to do the splits.
Before the 2021 season started, Jhonkensy Noel was a 19 year old first baseman who never played outside of the Dominican Summer League or Arizona Rookie League.
After its conclusion, he was placed on the Cleveland Guardians 40-man roster, selected in the LIDOM Draft, and is primed to begin the 2022 minor league season at Double-A. In addition to what he accomplished in between the lines, he also achieved goals off of the diamond. He graduated from Cleveland’s high school program for its international players alongside teammates who were graduated of the same program.
He used the extra time allotted by the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season to gain muscle and prepare, knowing that the patience and diligence would pay off in the long term for his career.
“I treated the pandemic like the season. Thank God it helped me have a good year,” he said.
Never having before faced the rigors of a full-length minor league season, Noel knew that conditioning was going to be key if he wanted to be at his best throughout the year.
“The pandemic sucked for everybody. Luckily for me, I got the chance to put some work in,” Noel said. “I focused on my lower body. Deadlifts and cardio were the two main things that helped.”
In addition to focusing on his physical development, Noel made changes to his swing mechanics and approach in the batter’s box too. He lowered his hands from near his head and sat them on top of his collarbone. He quieted the movement of his hands during his bat load, which is when a hitter gets his hands in position to swing the bat.
“I am a big man, I don’t need to do too much, because all I need to do is control my hands. I am not thinking about home runs, I’m trying to hit line drives.”
He transitioned from an approach that hinged on pulling the ball to focusing on spraying line drives to all fields. As a big man, he realized he could simplify his mechanics to reliably make more contact and still hit the ball hard consistently.
Noel started the 2021 season with Low-A Lynchburg he was the second youngest in the league among first basemen.
When compared to the other first basemen in all three Low-A leagues that recorded at least 100 plate appearances, Noel ranked:
1st in average (.393)
t-6th in homers (11)
1st in slugging (.693)
8th lowest K% (16.7 K%)
2nd in wRC+ (189)
9th in ISO (.300)
2nd in wOBA (.486)
After outright dominating Low-A, Noel more than earned his in-season promotion. He accrued 100 plate appearances with Cleveland’s High-A affiliate, where he slashed .280/.351/.550. He continued his impressive power surge, hitting eight home runs along the way. He posted a 136 wRC+ during his stint in Lake County, striking out almost 28% and walking a little over 8% along the way.
2021 was a year of exponential progress for Noel. The stark contrast in his status as a prospect before and after his breakout campaign illustrates just how impressive he was and how much he accomplished in a singular year. Poised to start his 2022 season in Double-A, the first baseman now has to deal with the expectations that come with performance along with facing much better pitching.
With Cleveland still sifting through first basemen at the major league level and a lack of favorable prospects in the upper minors, Noel’s breakout campaign could not have had more mutually beneficial timing as he is in a prime position, all that is left is performing when the lights are on.
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