An extended major league stay for St. Louis Cardinals first baseman John Nogowski would do wonders for the Cardinals and baseball.
If you had to think of one player who would rescue baseball from its waning popularity, you might come up with Mookie Betts or Ronald Acuna Jr., two players who are injecting life into the game with their exuberant love for the sport. But a quieter, more unassuming face could be the one who returns the game to its former glory. Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, meet St. Louis Cardinals first baseman John Nogowski.
Every year, it seems the St. Louis Cardinals have a player with little to no major league experience who raises eyebrows in Spring Training. This year, that player is Nogowski.
Nogowski is having a terrific spring, hitting .375 in 24 at-bats, and he’s walked eight times compared to his three strikeouts. That’s where Nogowski starts differing from everyone else who plays the game.
There has been a lot of talk about how baseball has increasingly become a three-true-outcomes sport: home run, walk, or strikeout. Many baseball fans and broadcasters have lamented the loss of players who just put the ball in play and make things happen. That’s precisely what Nogowski does.
Since the Cardinals signed him as a free agent in 2017, Nogowski has walked more often than he has struck out in all three seasons he’s played. That just doesn’t happen. Not in this century, anyway. With Triple-A Memphis in 2019, Nogowski struck out a minuscule 54 times in 380 at-bats, while he walked 69 times. And when he decided to swing, the result was often positive, as he logged a line of .295/.413/.476.
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While Nogowski’s aptitude for making contact is eye-popping, power was never one of his calling cards. He did manage a career-high 15 home runs in 2019, but for a first baseman, people expect more clout. I never liked the expectation of players to have certain attributes at the plate that were based solely on their positions. If a first baseman isn’t a masher, I don’t think it’s a big deal as long as he’s helped in the lineup by someone who is.
Nogowski shines in the field, although the glove standards are low for first basemen. He would fit in the Cardinals’ Gold Glove-saturated infield well. Unfortunately, Paul Goldschmidt is blocking his way. The Cardinals have reportedly been trying Nogowski in the outfield, but as a 6-foot, 250-pound player, he could be a liability in the grass.
He could make it as a bench player, possibly replacing the heavily struggling Matt Carpenter. The designated hitter will likely come into effect in 2022, but putting Nogowski or Goldschmidt there would be robbing one of them of a glove. Nogowski is in a rough spot, and at 28 years old, time could be running out on his chance to make a unique impact on the team.
Sluggers like Joey Gallo who hit moonshots can be nice in moderation, but if we want to make baseball a more fun and captivating sport to watch, we should have more variance in player types. Nogowski’s throwback skill set is something I want to see more of, and a player who can do what he does can be an extremely valuable piece for the Cardinals and for the fans of the sport.