JUPITER, Fla. -- John Nogowski tried hard to sleep in on his day off on Friday, but he still woke up at 7 a.m. -- a habit from the weeks of early report times that come with Spring Training. The early rise, though, allowed Nogowski to reflect on the first
JUPITER, Fla. -- John Nogowski tried hard to sleep in on his day off on Friday, but he still woke up at 7 a.m. -- a habit from the weeks of early report times that come with Spring Training. The early rise, though, allowed Nogowski to reflect on the first half of his first big-league camp, and to do that, all he had to do was open his journal.
Nogowski, a first baseman and non-roster invite, wanted to remember everything he’s learned this spring, so he began writing it all down. Friday was around the 20th day Nogowski’s been in camp. Yet he was 50 pages deep into the journal.
“I took a minute to actually just look through it, and I was like, ‘Dang, I’m 50 pages deep. I must have learned a lifetime of things here,’” Nogowski said. “I asked [Paul Goldschmidt] one question about how he likes to attack a pitcher [who’s] struggling with the strike zone. We were walking back from the cage, and he sat down and talked to me for 45 minutes just about what he likes to do in different scenarios.
“I think I’ve got about five or six pages of just that conversation.”
Nogowski’s takeaway from reading through the journal? He has to embrace every opportunity thrown at him, no matter what it is.
With Goldschmidt manning first base in St. Louis, Nogowski knows he’ll likely be starting the season at Triple-A Memphis. He’s not a top prospect, but he’s drawn attention this spring with his defense and plate discipline, raising confidence that he’d be ready if the Cardinals need depth in St. Louis.
And Nogowski is doing what he can to create value for himself. He’s been a backup in most games this spring, but he’s also begun to relearn left field, a position he played a little growing up and in his first year at Florida State University.
“[Bench coach Oliver Marmol] comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, Nogo is shagging in left field for the pitchers,’” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “He could have easily been in this clubhouse, and it would have been fine, but you appreciate guys who want to compete for the St. Louis Cardinals and get after it. He’s creating value for himself. The more value you create, the better off you’ll be. And value in every regard.”
Nogowski, 27, has had a long journey to get to this spring. He was drafted by the A’s in the 34th round of the 2014 Draft. Even though he showed impressive bat-to-ball skills, a low strikeout percentage and good defense, he lacked power. The A’s released him at the end of spring in 2017, and he figured his best chance to continue playing was join an independent league club.
He considers his time with the Sioux City Explorers of the American Association a crucial step in his career, allowing him to reset and play every day. The Cardinals signed him after 34 games and sent him to Double-A Springfield. That fall, he was invited to the Arizona Fall League.
“It was the wildest year of my life,” Nogowski said. “But it just goes to show you, you need one break.”
Nogowski hit .309/.392/.463 with Springfield in 2018 and .295/.413/.476 as a starter for Triple-A Memphis last season. This spring, he’s hitting .222 with four walks and two strikeouts across 18 at-bats.
His focus, like it was in the Fall League when he didn’t play every day, is learning how to be a successful bench player, the eventual role he sees for himself.
“[The Cardinals] have a really good first baseman,” Nogowski said. “So if I have to platoon, if I have to face the tough lefty out of the bullpen, how do I get myself ready for that? And that’s kind of what I’ve tried to focus on in camp. I know I’m backing up a ton of games. I know that it’s easy to complain about it, but that’s the realistic scenario that I would be in in the middle of the year.”
Nogowski has caught the eye of his teammates this spring with that mindset. Harrison Bader mentioned him as a player who has stood out this spring on the ESPN broadcast on Wednesday. Goldschmidt has been impressed with Nogowski’s plate discipline this spring. And Shildt appreciates the willingness to help the team, whether it’s shagging balls for pitchers or going in as a backup at first base or left field.
“Swinging at the right pitches, being able to put the ball in play,” Goldschmidt said. “I’m just impressed with his work ethic, his solid at-bats up there and he has a really great idea of what he’s doing at the plate. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and playing with him.”
Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.