Jacob Nottingham tackles the challenges he faces on the baseball diamond with the same tenacity he once displayed on the football field.
And now, the Quad-Cities River Bandits catcher who was recruited by Arizona as an outside linebacker is seeing an offseason focus on his hitting turn into results as he works through his first full-season assignment in the Astros organization.
A .230 hitter last season at Greeneville, Nottingham is off to a .320 start at the plate for Quad-Cities and has hit .439 for the River Bandits over his last 10 games.
He currently leads the Midwest League with a .547 slugging percentage and a home run rate of one for every 15.83 at-bats.
“Coming out of (short-season) Greeneville last year, I felt pretty good about my work behind the plate, but I knew I had to become a better hitter,’’ Nottingham said. “I knew I was a better hitter than I had shown and that’s what I went to work on.’’
It became a priority during his time at Houston’s postseason instructional league camp last fall.
Nottingham felt he benefited from his time there working with the organization’s catching instructor, Mark Bailey, and once he arrived at spring training he quickly found working with River Bandits hitting coach Joel Chimelis to be productive.
“I’ve spent a lot of time working to develop some consistency in my swing, to find something that works and stick with it,’’ Nottingham said. “Things clicked for me when I started working with (Chimelis). Sometimes that most comfortable swing may not be the best swing and we’ve worked through that.’’
That has helped Nottingham deliver power that has included 14 extra-base hits including six homers that ranks second among Midwest League hitters.
Strength has never been an issue for the 6-foot-3, 227-pound native of Redlands, Calif.
He considers that to be a byproduct of his training for football, where he played tight end and linebacker at a level which attracted recruiters and a scholarship offer from Arizona.
By then, Nottingham had already decided in his mind that baseball would be his game.
He committed to Oklahoma following his sophomore year of high school, a year before he ruptured his patella tendon during a baseball game. He returned to competition that fall in football before completing his prep career on the diamond and opting to sign with Houston after he was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 draft.
“I love football, but I always felt long term my future was in baseball,’’ Nottingham said. “I feel like I made the right decision for me.’’
He also believes his football experience continues to benefit him in baseball.
The discipline he developed in strength development was something he learned in football and he believes the physical part of football helps create the edge he needs defensively as a catcher.
“He brings a lot of energy to the field and for being 20 years old, his physical strength is impressive,’’ Quad-Cities manager Josh Bonifay said. “He uses it to his advantage.’’
Nottingham’s commitment to strength work carried over into the past offseason as he worked with trainer John Daniels at EM Speed and Power in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
“They did a great job of getting me ready for a full season,’’ Nottingham said. “I’ve built my body up to handle what it needs to be ready for this season, my core, my legs, my arm. I feel like there has been a real benefit to that.’’
Bonifay sees that as well.
“He’s put a lot of work into his game. He’s a good catcher, calls a good game, and he’s giving up good at-bats,’’ Bonifay said.
Nottingham said being surrounded by a lineup that leads the Midwest League with a collective .272 team batting average only helps.
“This team has a lot of good hitters, one through nine, and I think that helps everybody get comfortable at the plate,’’ he said. “We just have to do our job, nothing more, and that lets us all just go play.’’