As they hid behind a set of pitching nets, a crowd of reporters tried to pick out players from a group of Wolverines waiting to hit in an intersquad scrimmage this past Sunday.
“It’s really easy to spot Jordan Nwogu,” a reporter said. “You just look for the guy who’s built like Bo Jackson.”
The junior outfielder’s hulking shoulders make him the perfect candidate to rehash Jackson’s famous “Ballplayer” photo, but it is still yet to be seen whether or not Nwogu shares Jackson’s ability to flash the leather.
In previous seasons, Nwogu has not been an everyday outfielder, instead plugging into the DH spot for the Wolverines so that his dynamic bat stays in the lineup.
“Putting him at designated hitter last year was how we had our best offense on the field as well as our best defense,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said.
But now with former outfielder and Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Brewer gone to professional baseball, the DH spot is no longer the only one available to Nwogu. Moreover, Michigan now has a player who finds himself in a similar situation to the one Nwogu was in last year.
Promising freshman Jimmy Obertop is widely recognized as an impressive hitter by his teammates, but is a catcher by trade, which means that he occupies the same position as junior Joe Donovan — Michigan’s All-Big Ten Third Team catcher. According to Bakich, DH is a possible landing spot.
“Jimmy can hit,” Bakich said. “He hits the ball as hard as Nwogu and Franklin. His exit velocity and what he’s capable of mean that he’s a serious power threat.”
Nwogu may have been last season’s DH, but it is clear that that is no longer the way he’ll stay in the lineup. Now comes a switch to left field.
Nwogu was officially listed as an outfielder last season, but he only accrued 24 defensive chances in 2019. Consistent collegiate outfield reps are still a thing of the future for Michigan’s leadoff hitter.
Regardless, his skill-set fits the position well. Nwogu possesses blistering speed, as demonstrated by his 16 stolen bases on 18 attempts last season and his 6.61 60-yard dash time in high school. Additionally, his bulky frame is good for more than just a Bo Jackson comparison — giving him potential for game-breaking arm strength.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Nwogu has been working to eliminate his lack-of-experience problem.
“He took a million fly balls out there in left field,” Bakich said.
Nwogu’s response to being asked how he plans to achieve his self-proclaimed goal of being a really good defender is telling of that focus.
“Repetition,” Nwogu said. “Just repetitions is what it comes down to. Seeing the ball in the air.”
For someone who is consistently identified as an outstanding athlete, one of the few keys necessary to unlock a high potential is experience. Bakich recognizes this, and has given Nwogu a vote of confidence in light of the junior’s efforts to improve.
Nwogu has yet to prove himself in the outfield, but his high upside and demonstrated desire to improve leave those around Michigan baseball encouraged that the All-Big Ten First Team DH will transition smoothly to his new position. He may not run up an outfield wall anytime soon, but he will likely be a solid left fielder in the near future.
“He’s been getting better,” Bakich said. “And he’s still getting better, so we feel good about him in left field.”