Feb 222004
 
Authors: Josh Pilkington

When searching for a potential draft pick, Major League baseball

scouts will scour the world for that pitcher, fielder or hitter who

could, in time, take their organization to the next level. They’ll

look at Division I schools, Division II schools, junior colleges

and high schools; they’ll go to the Far East or Latin America to

find the next big thing; the last place, however, one would expect

a scout to look (let alone find) a prospect is on a club baseball

team. But that is where the Florida Marlins found right-handed

reliever Nate Nowicki.

A one-time member of CSU’s club baseball team, Nowicki was

drafted by the Marlins in the 19th round in last year’s amateur

draft. Last summer, while playing with the Jamestown Jammers, a

Marlins’ Single-A minor league affiliate, Nowicki measured up with

other prospects in the league, reaching as high as 94 mph on the

radar gun with his fastball.

“I think he’ll be pretty impressive,” said CSU club baseball

head coach Frank Gonzales, who was the last Ram drafted by a major

league team when the Detroit Tigers picked him in the16th round of

the 1989 draft. “I think he’ll move up in the Marlins’ organization

and we’ll be seeing him on TV someday.”

That day, though not any time soon, did not seem like a reality

three years ago when Nowicki was finishing his high school playing

days.

Once a strong arm, always a strong arm

Nowicki began his awkward journey to the minors as a third

baseman at Heritage High School in Littleton, not exactly a

top-prospect producing powerhouse for prep athletes.

“I wasn’t a pitcher at Heritage, I really didn’t have much of a

future in baseball,” Nowicki said. “I went to (the University of

Colorado-Boulder) my freshman year and didn’t play baseball.”

A full year removed from the game, Nowicki said he didn’t

consider baseball until he and some friends were throwing the ball

around at a pitching simulator near the Boulder campus.

“I was throwing really hard (88-90 mph),” Nowicki said. “That is

when I decided to pursue baseball.”

After a year in Boulder, Nowicki enrolled at the Community

College of Southern Nevada where he had immediate success.

“I did real well there,” he said. “I was 21st in ERA and on one

of the best community colleges in the nation. They ended up winning

the national championship last year.”

Following a stellar season in 2002, Nowicki became part of the

baseball draft where his adviser, Brad Peter, told him he was

projected to go between the 10th and 15th rounds of the 2002

amateur draft.

“I decided not to sign in the draft because I wanted to get some

D-I playing experience,” Nowicki said.

That opportunity came in the form of a full-ride scholarship to

the University of San Diego. But, after certain changes in the

program, Nowicki became turned off by the direction of the team and

decided to enroll elsewhere.

The not so typical college experience

With offers from schools like Arizona, Long Beach State and

Tennessee, Nowicki felt certain he would end up at a quality

program – then the NCAA stepped in.

Waiving transfer regulations at Nowicki, the NCAA impeded the

pitcher’s transfer to a Division-I school with a varsity baseball

team. All of which brought Nowicki back home and led him to enroll

at Colorado State.

“The NCAA said I couldn’t transfer out of the junior college

level to compete in D-I,” said Nowicki, who lived in Fort Collins

at the time. “So I stayed (in Fort Collins) and played on the club

team. I figured I would spend a year here and then transfer to a

D-I program.”

After helping lead CSU’s club team to the club national

championships, Nowicki, who remained in contact with scouts who had

watched him pitch in junior college, attended a few pre-draft

workouts in an effort to show his stuff.

Gonzales said the hype surrounding Nowicki while with the club

team was something he had never seen at the club level.

“During our spring seasons there were national junior league

scouts who came out to watch him,” Gonzales said. “He generated a

lot of interest.”

Working with a low-90s fastball, a change-up and a splitter,

Nowicki impressed scouts enough to get a call on draft day.

“”(The Marlins) called me in the 12th round, but money issues

kept me from signing,” he said. “My agent and I weren’t on the same

page with the team. … We had to come to a meeting point.”

Nowicki, unwilling to disclose the figure, agreed to a deal with

the Marlins. His decision to sign the second time in the draft came

after perusing on his college r�sum�.

“Had I transferred to another school that would have been four

schools in four years,” he said. “I didn’t want that.”

 

Preparing for 2004

Wanting to spend time and train in Colorado after his brief

summer season in Florida, Nowicki returned to CSU and enrolled in

classes for the fall 2003 semester. During the fall and winter

months, the junior said he spent time working out with Colorado

Rockies’ pitchers Scott Elarton and Turk Wendell, both Colorado

residents, and former University of Northern Colorado pitching

coach Bus Campbell.

“They’re there and real easy to talk to,” Nowicki said of his

training partners. “You can ask them what you want to know. It’s

not like talking to a professional athlete; it’s like talking to a

good buddy. They ask for your help, too. … We’re in the same

sport, just at different levels.”

On Thursday, the first day for pitchers and catchers to report

at their respective spring training facilities, Nowicki made his

way onto the green fields of the Marlins’ facility in Jupiter,

Fla., believing he is ready to take on the challenge of his first

spring training experience and show the club he has work ethic.

“This season is big,” he said. “It’s my first full pro season.

Last year in short season A-ball, it was about getting used to the

lifestyle. Now it becomes more like a business. I’m ready to go out

there and get some things done.”

From the low to high to higher, Nowicki now has his sights set

on the highest; and though he deviated from the typical path to the

majors several times, smart money says he’ll get there.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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