What will the next championship-contending White Sox team look like?
That's what we're setting out to determine (or at least make a guess at) this month. Ten members of our White Sox content team here at NBC Sports Chicago put our heads together to try to project what each position on the diamond would look like in one, two, three years. Basically, we posed the question: What will the White Sox starting lineup be the next time they're capable of playing in the World Series?
That question can have a bunch of different answers, too. We didn't limit ourselves to players currently a part of the organization. Think the White Sox are gonna make a big free-agent addition? Vote for that player. Think the White Sox are gonna pull off a huge trade? Vote for that player. We wanted to see some creativity.
A first-round draft pick isn't assured to rocket through the farm system. Jake Burger, the White Sox first-round pick in 2017, hasn't played above Class A Kannapolis, thanks in part to a pair of Achilles tears last year. Zack Collins has spent two and a half years in the White Sox system after they spent a first-round pick on him in 2016. Carson Fulmer, the first-round pick in 2015, did move quickly through the system, but his long-term major league future is a question mark after he struggled mightily at the big league and Triple-A levels in 2018.
Nick Madrigal might be different.
In fewer than 40 games as a pro after the White Sox used the No. 4 pick on him last summer, Madrigal played at three different levels and showed what made team brass call him "the best all-around player in college baseball." It's why he's our second baseman of the future.
Madrigal has more than a couple things going for him. He's touted as a Gold Glove type defender on the middle infield. He doesn't strike out, like at all, doing so just five times in 173 minor league plate appearances. He reaches base often (a .353 on-base percentage) and hits for a high average (.303 batting average). He has plenty of experience playing winning baseball, earning a College World Series championship with his Oregon State teammates in 2018.
All that makes his future not only look bright but makes his future look near.
The White Sox, of course, aren't putting a timeline on when Madrigal could reach the majors. They don't do that with any of their prized prospects. But Madrigal seems to be on the fast track, whether that's just because he was advanced from playing high-level college ball for so long or because he's just really good. He's likely to play at the Double-A level in 2019, and if he succeeds there, who knows? Rick Hahn always says the good ones have a way of changing the team's plans. Could Madrigal rapidly reach the bigs and help the rebuilding White Sox transition from rebuilding to contending in the next year or two?
Regardless of when he arrives, the White Sox are obviously high on Madrigal's abilities. The question is which position he'll be playing when he gets to the South Side. The good news for the White Sox is that Madrigal brings versatility on the infield. He spent time at second and short at Oregon State. He almost exclusively played second base in the minors last season.
“I’ve worked on different positions throughout my life in the infield,” Madrigal said when meeting with reporters in September. “When my dad hit me ground balls, I made sure to take them from both sides of the bag, just to make sure I had that in my back pocket. I’ve played a lot of shortstop my whole life.
“When I was really young I caught, so I feel like I’ve played almost every position on the field and I feel comfortable doing that.”
Last time he caught, he was 11., so let's focus on the middle infield. The White Sox are talking about moving current second baseman Yoan Moncada over to third, not necessary because Madrigal is on the way, but that's part of it. Of course, if Manny Machado picks the White Sox, the entire infield alignment could be thrown into disarray.
But Madrigal seems to have the stuff to be the second baseman of the future. The question then becomes how quick can he get here?
Yoan Moncada. Moncada is obviously the second baseman of the present, and the guy who isn't too far removed from being the No. 1 prospect in baseball is very much a part of the White Sox long-term plans. Fans might have soured on his potential after his 217 strikeouts last season, but the White Sox see it as a step in his path to big league stardom. Where that will be, though, is not set in stone. As mentioned, the team has discussed moving him to third base, in part because Madrigal is on the way and could provide an elite glove at second. Moncada made 21 errors at second last season. Should Machado arrive on the South Side, however, Moncada might get the opportunity to stay at second. Or he might go to third anyway. Or he might stay at second if the White Sox don't get Machado. They're undecided.
Starlin Castro. Here's creativity in action. One of our voters sees the second baseman of the future arriving as a free agent after either the 2019 or 2020 season (he's got an option for 2020). Currently a Miami Marlin, Castro's been a Cub and a New York Yankee, too. He's already logged nine big league seasons and has done so to the tune of a career .281/.321/.411 slash line. That might not leap off the screen, but considering the White Sox could be loaded elsewhere on the diamond, Castro could be a nice piece to finish off the lineup, if need be. He's only two years removed from a career-best .792 OPS and his fourth All-Star appearance. Is Castro at the top of folks' free-agent wish lists? Probably not. But he certainly could be an under-the-radar move that helps complete a contending roster.
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