The Oakland A’s organizational affinity for walks has been overstated over the years, but there is no question that the A’s front office places a high value on hitters who can work the count and find their way on-base.
Stockton Ports’ first baseman John Nogowski is one such player. Nogowski spent three seasons playing for Florida State, and he posted a .407 OBP and a .282 average for the Seminoles. Despite those numbers, Nogowski lasted until the 34th round of the 2014 draft, thanks in large part to the fact that he didn’t put up the traditional power numbers one often associates with first basemen. However, the A’s saw a player who was a tough at-bat and an above-average defender at first and called his name last June. So far, he hasn’t disappointed.
After a solid pro debut with the AZL A’s and the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters last season, Nogowski jumped from short-season ball to High-A at the start of this year. He has been a steady performer for the Ports in 2015. Going into Monday night’s game against the Bakersfield Blaze, Nogowski had a .269 average and a .361 OBP in 64 games. His K:BB was 31:29 and he ranked second on the team in walks, third in OBP and tied for fourth in doubles (13).
Nogowski said last week that jumping from college ball to High-A in less than a year has been a challenge, but that he has enjoyed facing the tougher competition.
“The stuff and command and the defenses are better,” Nogowski said of the difference between the Cal League and college ball. “It’s pretty much a Friday night guy every night, which is fun. As a competitor, I love that. The stuff, the command, the defenses and the way they call games – the catchers are much more experienced – it’s all better. It’s fun but it is definitely a few steps up.”
Nogowski credits his time at Florida State and playing in the ACC for preparing him for the advanced competition in professional baseball.“Everything from learning how to carry yourself to learning how to manage your school work – you don’t have to worry about that in pro ball but it teaches you how to manage your responsibilities – learning how to get yourself ready physically and mentally to play at that high level, it definitely helped,” he said. “The coaches were great and my teammates were great, so going through three years of that definitely set you up for pro ball.”
Nogowski is one of eight players drafted or signed by the A’s last season currently on the Ports’ roster. He says it has been helpful to have teammates learning the ropes of playing 142 games for the first time along with him.
“We are all in the same boat, going through the same thing,” Nogowski said. “I think when you’ve got guys in the same boat and going through the same experiences, it helps because you can bounce ideas off of one another. It’s fun to share that experience with the guys you came into pro ball with.”
Baseball has been a lifelong passion for Nogowski, who says that from the time he could stand, he was playing the game.
“From the beginning, I had a bat in my hand and a ball in my hand,” Nogowski said. “My dad loves the game, so he taught me the game at an early age.”
John’s father – also named John – has decades of sports writing and editing experience. In addition to winning three AP Sports Editor competition awards, Nogowski, Sr. wrote a book – Last Time Out – Big League Farewells of Baseball’s Greatest – on the final appearances of some of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game. Baseball is a passion that both Nogowskis have always shared and the younger Nogowski says his father’s influence on his game has been profound.
“Being selective at the plate, that’s something me and my dad worked on growing up,” Nogowski said. “At Florida State, they preached that, too. That’s how I like to hit.
”Hopefully Oakland likes that, too,” Nogowski said, laughing.
For many players in their first full season of professional baseball, the midway point in the season is when the grind of the long schedule begins to take its toll. Nogowski says that his time at home during the All-Star break was much needed, but that he is feeling energized and ready to help lead the Ports back to the post-season.
“When you have a group of guys like this, it’s fun,” he said. “It isn’t work. It makes it fun to come to the field everyday and that makes the grind a little easier.”
He says the Ports are coming together as a team at the right time.
“We just started stringing some hits together,” Nogowski said of the Ports’ successful month of June. “Our defense is playing great as of late and our pitching has been pretty much lights out. When you get everything going and start clicking in all facets of the game, it makes it a little bit easier and you start winning games.”
As he enters the home stretch of his first full season, Nogowski is keeping his goals simple.
“I want to stay healthy and just keep contributing,” Nogowski said. “As far as numbers go, I don’t like doing that. It’s hard to place a number out there as a goal. If I can go out there every game and provide for team, whether it is defensively or offensively, and try to make it through 142 [games], that is my goal.”