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
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
“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
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.