It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
This was the year. Fresh off an appearance in the College World Series Championship Game, former ABCA All-America Second Team selection Jordan Nwogu and the Michigan baseball team had high expectations as they sought a Big Ten title and a return to Omaha for a second chance at the national title. Nwogu had returned to school as a junior in 2019-20 and was looking forward to one last season before declaring for the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft.
That never happened.
The Wolverines’ season was postponed and then cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like that, Nwogu’s hopes of a Big Ten title and opportunity to raise his draft profile faded. Workouts with his teammates continued at home, but Nwogu was forced to bide his time, unable to showcase his abilities and play the sport he loves.
“(My) expectation was to play my full senior season, make it to Omaha,” Nwogu said. “I expected to get drafted, and then go play a short season after that in the minor leagues.”
Nwogu’s story will go on. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2020 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. While his transition from college towards the minors was not as he expected it to be, he was able to come back to Michigan and finish his degree as he planned. Yet Nwogu still regrets not being able to prove himself and to compete this past college season, which was the biggest loss in all of this to him.
“I was actually planning to come back to school to finish my degree, so that hasn’t been different, but losing the college season and not playing a shortened season was a big change,” Nwogu said. “The biggest change for me was losing that college season, and not getting a chance to play for that Big Ten championship.”
The pandemic likely had an impact on Nwogu’s draft situation, but the degree will always be unknown. After joining Michigan as a walk-on, he had improved his stock throughout his college career and was primed for a big season. But Nwogu prefers not to dwell on what might have been draft-wise, and instead, looks to develop in the Cubs’ system so he can earn a shot in the MLB.
“It did mess with draft stock and I really wanted to win a Big Ten championship, but I am in a pretty good spot, given the circumstances, and compared to a lot of other people,” Nwogu said. “I do think I would have risen up the boards when playing, but I am really glad I fell to the Cubs. I think I’m in a good place there.
“It’s tough to say, and maybe I would have gone to a team that would have given me more money but I’m pretty happy with where I am.”
As Nwogu turns his preparation to playing for the Cubs, he has also been forced to alter his workout process due to the pandemic. He is working out daily at the K2 training facility in Ann Arbor set up by his former Michigan teammates Jimmy Kerr and Ben Kizer. Michigan’s facilities were closed throughout the summer, so Nwogu had to get creative with his workouts. He has mostly been working out, through weight training, throwing, and hitting drills along with doing schoolwork. He does anything he can to improve his game, including hitting off live pitching on the weekends.
“Normally I would’ve been able to use Michigan’s facilities, to train, but the coronavirus has kind of messed things up, so I have to do things on my own and train on my own now, so that’s the biggest difference,” Nwogu said. “(The Chicago Cubs) have sent me some workouts … and I’ve sent them some video, and we’ve discussed it a little bit, but it’s not much right now.”
Nwogu hasn’t played in a game since March, and he won’t be able to for a while either. Some of his former teammates, like Matt Schmidt, are participating in fall leagues set up by their Major League clubs, but Nwogu said he’s heard nothing about that from the Cubs.
Minor League Baseball salaries are a major cause for concern historically. Players are often paid very little in comparison to Major League players, and even to their NBA G League or NFL practice squad counterparts. During the pandemic though, Major League Baseball provided minor leaguers with a $400 per week stipend through the end of May, with about half the teams extending them into the summer. This was actually an increase in pay for some minor league players, as the minimum salary in single-A is $290.
“A lot of other guys are getting jobs,” Nwogu said. “Some of them are trying to live off of signing bonuses, or getting jobs to get by. I’m training a younger kid myself, I act as a mentor, so that’s what I’ve been doing in addition to school, but the stipends have stopped.”
Minor League Baseball runs for about 5 months, so this would ordinarily be the offseason anyways. Many Minor League players have second jobs during the offseason to help financially, as they only earn $10,000-$20,000 for their seasons. With the coronavirus making those seasons impossible, players are even more likely to look for other jobs in addition to training during the offseason.
While Nwogu himself is not searching for a job, he continues to complete his degree from Michigan and prepare for a return for the diamond. Whenever that may be, his disciplined training ensures that he will be ready whenever that may happen.