Jordan Nwogu nearly didn’t make Michigan’s baseball team. Now he’s 1 of the Chicago Cubs’ top draft picks: ‘There is no finish line with his growth and improvement.’

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Jordan Nwogu’s decision to stay home to play college baseball nearly backfired.

“I’ll never forget it,” Nwogu said of his initial struggles at the plate during fall ball in 2017 at the University of Michigan. “It was hard to be confident that fall. I was the worst player at that time.”

Nwogu had the fallback of an academic scholarship but was faced with the threat of disappointing family and friends who were anxious to follow his baseball career from nearby Pioneer High School.

“He was very raw,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich recalled. “After fall ball, we told him he most likely was going to redshirt, and we weren’t going to keep him on the 35-man roster.”

Instead of pouting at home during the winter break, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Nwogu spent a large majority of his time at the Wolverines’ indoor batting cages.

“Every day I’d work out, watch video and send it to the coaches,” Nwogu said.

That was the start of a transformation that turned Nwogu into a productive freshman outfielder and what sold the Cubs on selecting him with their third pick in the June amateur draft.

“He is the most improved player I’ve coached from start to finish,” said Bakich, who led Michigan to the 2019 College World Series finals in his seventh season.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic that shut down the 2020 season in mid-March, Nwogu led the Wolverines with a .353 batting average and a .456 slugging percentage in 15 games that started with an eight-game hitting streak.

During his 2½ seasons at Michigan, Nwogu batted .334 with 23 doubles, five triples and 20 home runs.

“He might hurt a pitcher some day,” said one major-league scout, referring to Nwogu’s bat speed.

Perhaps Nwogu’s greatest distinction, aside from his sudden turnaround, is fulfilling leadoff duties despite a body frame associated more with a middle-of-the-order batter.

Nwogu posted a career. 430 on-base percentage, including a .442 mark in 46 games as a freshman. That plate discipline can enhance a Cubs farm system trying to develop more seasoned batters.

“We joked that if the very first pitch of the game was an off-speed pitch, we won because (the other team) was scared,” Bakich said.

But there was no joking in the fall of 2017 after Nwogu struggled to take batting practice, Bakich said.

“He looked like a football player trying to play baseball,” Bakich recalled.

Nwogu devoted several hours to hitting the ball with more authority. The winter videotapes that produced triple-digit exit velocity convinced Bakich and his staff to carry Nwogu on the 35-man roster — albeit primarily as a pinch-runner.

Nwogu continued to sharpen his batting eye by standing in as a hitter during bullpen sessions.

“He would take a three or four-foot lead off first base but suddenly drop an anchor,” Bakich said. “He didn’t want to make a mistake.”

After a chat with his head coach, Nwogu was inserted as a pinch-runner against Stanford and Nico Hoerner and promptly stole second and third.

“He has a different gear running the bases,” Bakich said of Nwogu, who stole 30 bases in college. “He gets to full speed quickly and has great body control.”

Bakich took the training wheels off two games later and gave Nwogu his first start. That paid off with a 7-for-11 weekend performance against Bowling Green that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors and a permanent spot in the lineup, and he eventually worked his way from the middle to the top of the order during his career.

“It’s not a wake-up call when you always work hard,” said Nwogu, a computer science engineering major. “I just busted my (tail) and used the resources available to me. I wanted to play in front of my hometown and be on the field in front of my family and friends.”

Nwogu was destined to play for Michigan, where his parents work. Okey Nwogu, Jordan’s father, is a senior associate research scientist in the naval architecture and marine engineering department and Uche George-Nwogu, Jordan’s mother, is a doctor and a professor in the department of family medicine.

“My mom was the first person I wanted to hug (after being drafted),” Nwogu said. “She’s a big part of the person I am.”

Talent evaluators outside the Cubs organization believe Nwogu will need to refine his swing. But his blend of power and plate discipline are rare combinations, said Dan Kantrovitz, Cubs vice president of scouting.

“And then you factor in the multi-dimensional tools that you’ve got where you know he can steal a base and cover some ground in the outfield,” Kantrovitz said. “We’re pretty excited about him.”

Nwogu is just as excited about the opportunity to return to Chicago on a permanent basis. He played for the under-18 Chi-Town Cream travel team with pitcher Bobby Miller of Louisville, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first pick in the 2020 draft, and recalled visiting Wrigley Field a few times.

“It’s an incredible story of a kid who worked so hard,” Bakich said. “There is no finish line with his growth and improvement.

“He’ll will himself to the majors.”


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