Danny Mendick

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

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CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS/LAURA WOLFF

What's the deal with second base at White Sox spring training?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not to go all Seinfeld on you, but what's the deal with second base?

Between the breakout seasons from young core players in 2019 and an influx of veteran additions, the White Sox starting lineup is rather easy to project. Obviously Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Edwin Encarnacion are locked in as everyday starters, and even Nomar Mazara seems to be in that category at the moment, with talk of a potential platoon in right field all but disappearing over the last couple months.

That leaves just one position in the realm of the unknown: second base.

Over the course of the entire 2020 season, the majority of the starts there figure to go to Nick Madrigal, one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball. But whether he'll break camp with the White Sox or start the season at Triple-A Charlotte is still uncertain. The latter seems more likely, based on how he's been talked about this offseason, though how he fares this spring could produce the opposite result after he played at three different levels of the minor leagues in 2019.

"We made the assessment at the end of last season that Nick Madrigal wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday during Cactus League Media Day. "He was sent home with some specific things to work on. He can very well come to spring training this year, show he’s made certain adjustments and find himself on the Opening Day roster.

"That said, we also have guys like (Danny) Mendick and Leury (Garcia) who we fully believe can hold down the fort until such time that Nick is ready.

"We’ll have somebody come Opening Day sitting over there."

Indeed, the White Sox manning every position on the field seems a safe bet.

Nothing against Garcia nor Mendick, but Madrigal is such a talented up-and-comer that it's quite possible he's the team's best second baseman right now. But Madrigal saw just 29 games' worth of Triple-A pitching last season, and it's possible the White Sox will leave Glendale believing he needs to see some more before they bring him up to the major leagues.

Madrigal's job is to convince them otherwise, and he's been prepping to do exactly that all winter.

"I actually stayed here (in Arizona) this whole offseason, so I've been around a while now," Madrigal said last week. "I started coming to the complex about two or three weeks ago."

The kid's a real go-getter, as you can tell. There might not end up being much that separates Madrigal starting the season as the second baseman in Chicago or as the second baseman in Charlotte, but obviously the difference between those two jobs is huge. A big performance in Cactus League play could show the White Sox, a team that's gone from making a priority of development to making a priority of winning games and competing for a playoff spot, they're better served with Madrigal playing 162 games as a big leaguer rather than a smaller number.

"It's kind of out of my control. The only thing I can control is showing up every day and playing as hard as I can," Madrigal said. "They may think I need to add some stuff to my game, or whatever it may be. I feel confident right now the way I'm playing out there. Just can't worry too much about that at this point.

"I know there's a lot of time from here to the season, there's a lot of games you've got to play, so anything can happen. But I'm going to try to show up every day and play my game."

But if the White Sox still think Madrigal needs further minor league seasoning, then what?

Well, as Hahn mentioned, someone will be starting at second base on Opening Day.

The likeliest candidate is Garcia, the utility man whose versatility makes him a lock to make the 26-man roster out of camp. But while utility reserve will likely be his primary role once Madrigal arrives, until then, he could be the team's starting second baseman.

Mendick, who had some good moments as a September call-up last season, would likely be the reserve infielder, and he could see plenty of time at second if Renteria opts to send Garcia to spell starters in both the infield and outfield.

So there's not an update so much as there is a setting of the table as the Cactus League schedule begins Saturday. There might be nothing bigger to watch during the exhibition schedule than whether Madrigal can play his way onto the Opening Day roster. If that happens, the White Sox will have their transformed lineup ready from Day 1 as they look to chase down the AL Central crown.

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State of the White Sox: Second base

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LAURA WOLFF/CHARLOTTE KNIGHTS

State of the White Sox: Second base

The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

First base opened the series. Here, we’re moving on to second base.

What happened in 2019

Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez flipped positions ahead of the season, with Sanchez taking over at second base and playing terrific defense there. Sanchez ranked highly in a ton of defensive categories and might wind up a Gold Glove winner.

But because of a less-than-stellar bat — he finished with a .252/.318/.321 slash line, that slugging percentage by far the lowest among baseball’s qualified second baseman — all eyes were on the future in the minor leagues.

Nick Madrigal, who the White Sox selected with the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft, had himself an exceptional season playing at three different minor league levels. In his first full year as a pro, he showed off his most notable trait, a superhuman ability to avoid striking out, fanning just 16 times in 532 trips to the plate. He ended up slashing .311/.377/.414, and while that slugging percentage could be a bit of a big league bugaboo for him, too, the average and on-base percentage delivered much what was expected of an advanced college bat.

Back in the bigs, Danny Mendick finally got a chance at a taste of the major leagues, getting 12 hits, including a couple homers, in 40 plate appearances scattered across 16 games in September.

What will happen this offseason

The White Sox have a decision to make on Sanchez, who is slated for another raise in the arbitration process. It all depends on what kind of role they envision for him, and with Madrigal coming fast, that role wouldn’t figure to be that of an everyday player.

In fact, general manager Rick Hahn went as far as saying that he expects Madrigal to be the team’s second baseman for much of the 2020 season, signaling that Sanchez’s only way onto the roster would be as a utility man off the bench.

That would certainly be a positive thing for the White Sox, to utilize his excellent defense at a variety of infield positions late in games. But will that be worth the money? Sanchez made more than $4.5 million in 2019 and will make more in 2020 if he goes to arbitration. If the team deems that too expensive for a utility man off the bench, Sanchez could get non-tendered.

For what it’s worth, manager Rick Renteria had high praise for Sanchez as the season wrapped up over the weekend.

“Here's a guy who brings all the energy in the world,” he said. “A tremendous defender. Puts together some at-bats, has had some timely at-bats for us. ... He does a lot of little things that help you win offensively. He's been something kind of special for us.”

Madrigal, though, is hyped as having a similarly excellent level of defensive skill, and it might be enough to let Sanchez’s glove go.

One player who could factor into all this is Leury Garcia, who spent almost the entirety of the 2019 season in the outfield. He has the versatility to play just about everywhere on the diamond, second base included, and it would not be surprising to see the White Sox bring him back as a utility man off the bench in 2020.

The White Sox might pursue a second baseman from outside the organization, but again, it likely wouldn’t be someone slated for the everyday job there. If they do add someone, it would be as a bench player who would play second base until Madrigal is ready to come up from the minors.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

Madrigal, the No. 4 prospect in the organization, has been ticketed as the second baseman of the future since the White Sox moved Moncada to third base in February, and his strong season in the minors in 2019 only solidified that.

Madrigal will likely arrive in the majors during the early portion of the 2020 schedule. Pending the kind of contract Eloy Jimenez signed during spring training in 2019, lingering service-time issues mean it’s likely we won’t see Madrigal or Luis Robert until mid-to-late April.

Of course, it’s possible that Madrigal’s debut is a little after Robert’s, as Hahn alluded to during his end-of-season press conference last week.

“I don't know when exactly Luis Robert will arrive come 2020 or when Nick Madrigal will arrive in 2020. I would say based upon their seasons, probably have Luis a tick ahead of Nick in terms of projected arrival time,” Hahn said. “But we'll see how they show up in camp and how that unfolds.

“I think we can sit here and say that similar to Eloy a year ago, that we expect Luis Robert to be playing center field for most if not all of the 2020 season. Nick Madrigal playing second base? Probably most of the 2020 season. But let's wait and see how he comes to camp and what this offseason holds.”

And so the only question, really, is who will play second base until Madrigal reaches the majors. Garcia would be a prime candidate should he be back in a White Sox uniform in 2020. Mendick could also be kept on the 40-man roster and used as the second baseman at the major league level until Madrigal is ready to debut.

But Madrigal figures to be the guy at that position for a long time on the South Side.

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Meet Danny Mendick, one of the White Sox biggest surprises in spring training

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USA TODAY

Meet Danny Mendick, one of the White Sox biggest surprises in spring training

In a clubhouse that’s been filled with top prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Dylan Cease, there’s a White Sox 22nd round draft pick who arrived at spring training almost invisible.

He’s not ranked among their top 30 prospects. He never received a scholarship offer out of high school. Chances are, this article might be the first time you’ve ever seen his name—and that’s completely fine with Danny Mendick. 

“I like being under the radar because someday when I do come up (to the majors), and everyone is like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ it will be a little more special,” said the 25-year-old Mendick who is starting to lose some of that anonymity this spring. He entered Sunday batting .412 in 20 at-bats with two doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs. 

It’s been quite a journey for the Rochester, N.Y. native, an ascend so steep just to get to this point, he’s practically a mountain climber.

“It’s been very uphill. A lot of bumps in it. That made me the player I am today. I’ve had to battle a lot more adversity than most people,” he said. “You get a stretch where you’re 0 for 20. I can handle that. I feel like I’m so in tune with adversity, it’s second nature.”

Coming out of high school at 5-foot-8 and not a single college knocking on his door, Mendick stayed home and played at nearby Monroe Community College for two years. After that, it was two years at UMass-Lowell where he combined to hit .317/.407/.467. When it came time for the 2015 draft, he knew of just one team that was interested in him, and it was Chicago’s other baseball team. Not the White Sox.

“The only team I really talked to before (the draft) was the Cubs,” Mendick said. “When the draft was around, I was looking at the Cubs and then the White Sox picked me and I was like, okay. I didn’t have any knowledge of anything beforehand. Honestly, it was kind of a good thing because I wasn’t expecting much. But when I did get the opportunity and got the call from the White Sox in the 22nd round I was so thrilled. It was probably one of the greatest days of my life.” 

His first full season in the White Sox organization was a whirlwind to say the least. Being a toolsy 22-year-old who could play second base, third base and shortstop, he went through prospect spin cycle, moving from one minor league team to another all year long.

How about this stretch that July when Mendick changed teams seven times in 20 days:

July 1: Winston-Salem to Charlotte
July 2: Charlotte to Winston-Salem
July 4: Winston-Salem to Charlotte
July 5: Charlotte to Winston-Salem
July 7: Winston-Salem to Charlotte
July 13: Charlotte to Winston-Salem
July 20: Winston-Salem to Kannapolis

“That road down from Winston to Charlotte, my car had some good mileage on that,” Mendick said. “I finished that year in (Class-A) Kannapolis. I didn’t really play much when I was in Winston and Charlotte. I was more of a backup in case somebody got hurt. And then I went back to Charlotte and I was playing everyday. I think that’s what they wanted to me to do was to get some experience which was good.”

Chris Getz didn’t become the White Sox director of player development until the following season, but he understands why a player like Mendick could be tossed around like that.

“It’s more of a testament to what he brings to the table. His ability to play multiple positions and having trust in what he’s doing,” Getz said about Mendick. “So even though you’re putting him at perhaps a higher level, you know he’s going to stand in the right spots, and provide what the team needs that day.”

If there was a breakthrough moment for Mendick in his career, it came in 2017. He started that season at Winston-Salem, where there was a manager who happened to score the only run in Game 4 of the 2005 World Series for the White Sox.

Mendick had found a kindred spirit in the form of Willie Harris.

“He actually taught me a lot, and it wasn’t just verbally. It was how he acted and what he did,” Mendick said about Harris. “We talked all the time because he was the utility guy. He was that guy you needed who played everywhere. He brought so much energy and he told me how to take care of my business the right way and how to go out there with a little chip on my shoulder, because I am a 22nd rounder. You don’t have the big name on your jersey. He just taught me how to go out there and play the right way. I owe him a lot because that whole year made me into the player I am right now.”

In 2018, Mendick was named the MVP of the Double-A Birmingham Barons, hitting .247/.340/.395 with 14 home runs, 25 doubles and 20 steals, while playing his home games at a park that’s not considered hitter-friendly. His numbers might not jump off the page, but a player like Mendick has a skillset that goes beyond the boxscore.

“Coaches really enjoy having him on a team because of what he brings to the table,” Getz said. “His attention to detail, his ability to play multiple positions, his quality of at-bats. He’s a winning player. You talk to all the managers and coaches who have had him, they always speak highly of Danny.”

If you’ve ever been told that you can’t do something, Mendick is an example that you can.

“You can’t have a negative mindset when you go through stuff like that. You’ve just got to always stay positive and always keep your goals in sight. That’s what I’ve done since day one. Just go out there and control what I can control. You can’t worry about everything else,” Mendick said.

That’s how a 22nd round draft pick out of a small college in Lowell, Mass. has been playing spring training games against the likes of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Kris Bryant.

“It shows us that he’s not scared of anything. He’s proved doubters wrong his whole life and his whole playing career. Any obstacle that’s put in his way, he’s not going to back down,” Getz said. “Certainly baseball presents plenty of challenges. He’s one of those guys who’s not going to run the other direction because he’s overcome so much. There are a lot of players like that have the same backstory and track record that go out and have nice major league careers.”

If he does reach the majors, Mendick knows exactly the type of player he can be: a super utilityman who does everything.

“I just look at guys like Ben Zobrist and Brock Holt, how they’re so versatile and so good, the team can just put them wherever and they’ll go out there and produce. That’s a guy I want to be like. They can ask me to do whatever, and I’ll just do it."