“You won’t find a better worker than Jordan,” exclaims Nick Schnabel, Assistant Head Coach for the University of Michigan.
Jordan Nwogu is not your prototypical draft prospect. A walk-on at the University of Michigan, the Pioneer High School (Ann Arbor) graduate was more of an afterthought than a prized college recruit, yet his hard work and discipline allowed him to mature, grow, and develop into the player that is now a legitimate MLB prospect.
His freshman year at Michigan, in fact, he had no guaranteed roster spot, and that fall endured what Coach Schnabel said “wasn’t good, from a statistical standpoint and from a production standpoint.” Despite that ugly fall campaign, fighting against the odds as a walk-on, he worked tirelessly over the winter, sending video to coaches and asking for pointers as he developed. “He has a will, and a work ethic that’s unmatched”, Schnabel said, “and I think that’s what led him to where he is today.”
The Cubs had an interesting 2020 MLB draft. Selecting Ed Howard in the first round was surprising, to be sure, yet also carries excellent post-draft marks from a variety of sources. (The Dugout’s official Cubs draft grades will be out later this week.) And for my sake, they also drafted three pitchers, each of which requiring varying degrees of minor league seasoning and maintaining different long-term projections.
While I’ve stated all along that the Cubs needed to bulk up on pitching — indeed, I suggested taking as many as four arms in the draft — I can’t help but find appreciation in their position player choices. Along with the impossibly talented Howard, the Cubs landed a potential sleeper in the third round.
Physical Tools with the Intangibles to Match
“The power/speed combo he has is just tremendous”, exclaims Schnabel, “his zone awareness has helped him become the player that he is.”
Raw strength and solid hand-eye coordination have produced eye popping exit velocities and suggests his power will translate at the next level. As the Cubs staff work with him and he develops in the farm system, it’s realistic to think Nwogu could hit 20+ home runs in the majors. Jordan also showed the promise to stick as a lead-off hitter with a career .430 OBP in college, complimented by slugging .545 in his two-plus seasons at Michigan.
That penchant for getting on base, and the promise of in-game power are nestled in a large body. At 6’3, 235 pounds, Jordan is not your typical lead-off hitter — hell, he’s not even your typical baseball player. According to Coach Schnabel, Jordan had as many as four D1 football scholarship offers, yet he was determined to play baseball at Michigan.
“We kinda got into the recruiting process a little bit later with him,” Schnabel said, “he’s a phenomenal athlete, an unbelievable worker. A lot of that has to do with his parents, Uchey and Okey, who emigrated from Nigeria, that instilled a great work ethic in him.” Being raised to be a hard-working, quiet leader, Jordan has developed into a young adult with the character, determination, and desire to succeed that the front office clearly fell in love with.
“Where his game has been really helped is his ability to control the strike zone. He’s worked tirelessly on that, developing that zone awareness.”
Nwogu is also lauded as a teammate. Although Coach Schnabel describes his leadership qualites as “leading by example,” he was “constantly uplifting and complimenting teammates despite being quiet by nature.” Such a demeanor and attitude, coupled with his work ethic and skill set, will allow him to mature into a player flexible enough to fit onto any roster.
Questions yet to be Answered
While Jordan is lauded for his quickness and aggressive base running style, scouts aren’t overly optimistic about his defensive game, particularly his arm strength and reading deep fly balls. Coach Schnabel views his defensive game as more-than-adequate, however. He has “an accurate arm, not a plus arm, but it has improved,” and despite not playing baseball for very long in his life he has shown constant improvement in every aspect of his game.
While Nwogu profiles as a left fielder long-term he played a lot of center field at Michigan, and Coach Schnabel raved about his work-ethic defensively. Even last fall he showed significant improvement reading fly balls, tracking deep balls and ranging to his left and his right while displaying an accurate arm. “I think he’s going to be just fine defensively. [The University of Michigan coaching staff] were all really encouraged to see where his defense was coming heading into the 2020 season.”
These are words of encouragement, especially for a team that already employs a shaky left fielder in Kyle Schwarber — who may soon suffer the fate of the universal DH. Nwogu presents a player with impossible upside: his raw power is real, and the speed for someone with a 6’3, 235 pound frame is absolutely impressive.
Offensively the biggest question with Nwogu is his swing. His lower half doesn’t seem to time up with his upper body, leading to a swing that at best could be called unorthodox. And while that swing likely limited his draft upside (88th pick overall, 197th best prospect per Baseball America, 108th by MLB Pipeline) it’s also a swing that can improve with coaching. In fact, Jordan has already proven that to be true in college.
“If you look at his swing in particular it’s evolved, from his freshman year going into his sophomore year, into Omaha, and then into this year, his swing changed from the previous season. I think it’s going to continue to evolve. I’ve talked to scouts and they think it’s unique, it’s an inside-out swing but he does display that power to the opposite field. His hand-eye coordination is great… as his career evolves I don’t worry about his swing, that’s for sure.”
What remains to be seen is whether the physical tools and tireless work ethic will help Jordan unearth that untapped potential. Per Coach Schnabel, Nwogu has played baseball just a handful of years in his life, making the unique swing and defensive question marks less a concern and more of an excitement for the Cubs. If and when that potential is realized to its greatest extent, the Cubs may find themselves with a player that can contribute every day at the big league level.
“The biggest take away from me is just what kind of kid he is,” Schnabel concluded. “We’re gonna miss him, but we’re gonna root like heck for him and can’t wait to see him continue to excel.”
Indeed, the Cubs see Jordan as that high-upside pick with a still-maturing skill set. However Jordan’s career ends up with the Cubs, he’s a high-upside pick with the drive to fully realize his potential. Third round picks are far from a safe bet, but with Jordan Nwogu, the Cubs have a player with the physical tools, unmatched character, and a hunger to succeed.