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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

5/13/24 : Spotlight : Infielder Nikau Pouaka-Grego

Nikau Pouaka-Grego is a nineteen year old 2B/3B currently playing for the Clearwater Threshers who was signed by the Phillies as an international free agent on January 17th, 2022.  He was born in Christchurch, New Zealand and grew up in Australia. I had the good fortune of meeting him and both of his parents and grandfather during the spring of 2022 and the Florida Complex League (FCL) season that summer.  He’s one of the most pleasant young men I’ve come to know from the Phillies organization as are his family members I’ve met.  Great sense of humor, dedicated worker and wisdom beyond his young age of nineteen.

Nikau had major knee surgery in the fall of 2022 (ACL reconstruction) and has since worked diligently to rehab and return to game action which he’s done this year with the Threshers.  When we first saw him play in the FCL he showed that he can flat out swing the bat - a left hand hitter who has the ability to hit gap to gap line drives as well as drive the ball out of the yard, during the 2022 FCL season he hit three homers on the expansive backfields and posted a .301 batting average with an OBP of .424 in 125 plate appearances.  The eye-hand coordination and bat to ball skills stood out along with quick hands and good baseball instincts.  Power will seemingly further develop as he grows more into his body.

This season he’s off to a great start with the Threshers - in 17 games a .333/.429/.481 slash line with an OPS of .910 in 64 plate appearances with 6 doubles, a triple, 7 RBIs and 7 walks.  He’s played solid defense at third base (12 games) and second base (4 games).  I recently asked Nikau a few questions - here’s our Q & A.

You’ve played abroad since you were in little league  - can you tell us about some of those experiences ?

“I’ve traveled to the United States almost every year since I was 10 to play baseball.  First three trips I had out here for baseball was the Cal Ripken World Series, I played for New Zealand, this was in 2015 (10yrs old), 2016 (11 yrs old) and 2017 (12yrs old).  In 2018 I traveled to Panama to play in the U15 World Cup for Team Australia.  Those are my most memorable baseball trips.  Being able to do that at a young age was unreal, having my family there to watch me play on the other side of the world was special too.  Being able to play for both the country my Mum was born in and then playing for the country my Dad was born in is also something super special.  My other trips were for showcases and to get my name out there leading up to my signing period.”

Can you describe the experience on how you signed with the Phillies ?  Who was the scout who signed you?

“There is a very successful scout in Australia named Howie Norsetter who originally was with the Twins and signed the Aussie big leaguers that played for them as well as signing all of the Australians that have come through with the Phillies. I happened to play against his son in Little League and Junior League back home and that’s the first time he laid eyes on me out on the field and then he continued following my progress and scouting me.”

You have returned from a serious knee injury an and are doing quite well. How is the knee responding and how happy are you to be back in action?

“My knee is feeling great, feels strong, my confidence in it is through the roof and I couldn’t be happier being back on the field doing what I love most.”

Rehabs are difficult and you had an extended one - is there any fellow player that helped you thru the experience that you want to mention ?

“Rehab was so tough, especially being around baseball but knowing I couldn’t be out there playing was what got to me the most.  One person in rehab at the time with me that helped was Kendall Simmons, that dude is an absolute dawg.  He took me under his wing in the time he had in rehab and helped changed my view on being injured and how I approached my rehab.”

You have played both second and third base this season - any preference ?

“Honestly I don’t have a preference.  I love second base because I get to turn double plays and tag runners out stealing. I love the fact that the ball gets ripped at you at third, I get to show off my arm a little more and then making plays on slow rollers is always the best when you’re over at third.”

I have been impressed with your arm strength and defensive footwork - especially at second on double play turns - has that been something you’ve worked recently at ?

“Yeah we work on it a lot here with the Threshers, we utilize the half field we have and will spend time out there as an infield group working on double play feeds and foot work around the base.”

What type of hitter would you describe yourself as ?  Have you used the hitting lab and if so how has it helped ?

“I would describe myself as a contact hitter that has sneaky pop.  I haven’t done any specific work in the LAB but I have hit in there and it is one of the coolest set ups and places I’ve hit in.”

Will you be playing for Adelaide in the Australian Baseball League this coming season ?  How anxious are you to be able to play back home once again ?

“I would really like to play for Adelaide this coming ABL season, I’m not sure what the plan is as of right now but I want to be in Adelaide and go win us another championship.”

Are you a goal setter ?  If so what are your goals for this season and long term?

“My number one goal growing up was to be a big leaguer.  Once I found out that there’s never been a New Zealand born player in the show my goal quickly changed to wanting to be the first NZ born player in the big leagues.  During the season, I have a plan when I’m going up to bat and when I’m on defense and base running, I’m locked in to do what I can do for the team in that present moment.   I have my overall goal set so during the season I let me do me out on the field and let the process take care of itself.”

I thank Nikau for taking the time to answer my questions and wish him continued success both with good health and on the baseball field.  It sure would be cool to say we knew the first New Zealander to play in the show, with Nikau’s skill set, attitude and passion for the game we might be able to boast just that!

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

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