When will (enter name of White Sox prospect) reach the major leagues? That’s been the question du jour during the South Side rebuilding project.
First it was Yoan Moncada. Then Michael Kopech. Now, for another month anyway, Eloy Jimenez. The same question will apply to Dylan Cease as 2019 goes on. But it’s asked in regards to each and every one of the White Sox highly ranked prospects, an unsurprising reality because fans — whether big supporters of Rick Hahn’s ongoing rebuilding effort or getting a little tired of waiting for it to produce a big league winner — want to see these young talents at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The latest? Nick Madrigal. After being selected with the No. 4 pick in last summer’s draft, he’s the newest headliner added to this collection of prospects.
But his ascension to the majors might be a little different from the rest. The White Sox described him as “the best all-around player in college baseball” when they drafted him. Then, after winning the College World Series with the Oregon State Beavers, he played at three different levels in his short time as a member of the White Sox organization, and he was pretty impressive, too, batting .303 with a .353 on-base percentage and striking out just five times in 173 plate appearances.
Madrigal was sent out of big league camp Tuesday, one of the first five cuts of the spring for the White Sox. It should be no indication of anything, really, other than the very obvious plan for Madrigal to begin the 2019 season as a minor leaguer. Whether he starts where he left off last season, Class A Winston-Salem, or joins that team’s former manager, Omar Vizquel, at Double-A Birmingham, it would not be at all surprising to see Madrigal spend the entire 2019 campaign in the minor leagues.
But, remember, this is “the best all-around player in college baseball” we’re talking about here. That designation would figure to make him more advanced than the typical prospect. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s expected to fly through the farm system, but maybe he could.
“I think I’m just going to play my game. They drafted me for a reason. I think if I play my game, then everything will kind of take care of itself,” Madrigal said last month in Glendale, Arizona. “It just depends on what the organization’s plan is. I’m not going to worry about any of that, I’m just going to go out there and try to play as hard as I can. I think everything kind of happens for a reason, and I’m just going to focus on my game.”
It’s that game, though, that could be what moves Madrigal quickly through the ranks. He hits for a high average, gets on base, doesn’t strike out and plays what’s been billed as Gold Glove caliber defense. The White Sox could use all those qualities at the big league level now, even if Madrigal as an individual player isn’t ready for that quite yet.
“I’m probably going to see Nick, yeah,” Vizquel said last month. “I don’t know at what point of the season. Obviously, he’s one of the biggest prospects we got. It was a pleasure working with the guy. There’s a lot of knowledge there, for as young as he is. Likes to ask a lot of questions. You can see that he wants to learn every day. The kind of player that you want to have with you all the time.
“His defense is awesome. He’s got quick hands, with good range. His arm is pretty good. And he knows where to be in different situations, so you don’t really have to be on top of his game. He knows what he has to do. He comes in and gets his work in. Great. Just love the guy, everything he does in the field.”
Madrigal said the White Sox drafted him for a reason, and that reason is that all those skills could align with the rest of the future stars of this rebuilding effort: the power of Jimenez, the five tools of Luis Robert, the flame-throwing speed of Kopech and the ace potential of Dylan Cease.
“There’s a lot of talent at every single level in this organization,” Madrigal said. “The few levels I was at last year, you could see how much talent from the bottom levels to the middle levels. There’s a ton of talent throughout the organization. It’s definitely exciting to have. Usually organizations have just one stacked team, but I think every level I was at, you could see how much potential (exists). And once it comes together it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
It does seem like the White Sox are already preparing for Madrigal’s arrival, in a way. They moved Yoan Moncada, the team’s starting second baseman in 2018, from second to third base this spring. Now, that’s a move that was made for multiple reasons, and the fact that it might be Madrigal’s eventual spot is not necessarily chief among them. Manager Rick Renteria said multiple times during the early weeks of spring training that moving Moncada to third could improve his focus, and by extension his overall play, both defensively and offensively.
But while Hahn said that moving Moncada was about Moncada more than it was about anyone else, there’s no arguing that there are now no impediments to Madrigal taking over as the White Sox second baseman when the time comes. Forget the awkward situation that was speculated about when Madrigal was drafted, one involving the White Sox having three players (Madrigal, Moncada and Tim Anderson) for two middle-infield spots. Now, the space has been cleared, even if that wasn’t the team’s main goal in making the move.
“Right now, let’s make it about what’s best for the players that are currently here,” Hahn said last month when asked about Madrigal’s potential impact on Moncada’s position switch. “Obviously, at the minor league level, we’ll do what’s best for Nick’s development. And somehow if it all wound up — and we said this at the time of the draft — if we have too many guys at premium positions capable of playing championship-caliber ball, it’s a good problem to have and we’ll deal with it when we get there.
“But moving Moncy to third is about getting the most production out of him going forward. We certainly believe very strongly in Madrigal’s future and what he’s going to potentially bring to a championship club at second base. But we try to put these guys in the best position to succeed today, and then ultimately if someone comes up and pushes them to a different position, we’ll deal with that at that time.”
So will Madrigal force someone out of a job before the 2019 season is over? With the way the White Sox have treated their prospects during this process, it doesn’t seem terribly likely. They’ve been patient with Moncada and Kopech and Jimenez, and they’re expected to continue to be patient with Cease and Robert and Madrigal.
But as Hahn has a habit of saying, the good ones can force a team’s hand. If Madrigal is as good as the rave reviews he received this spring, maybe his rise through the ranks will be a rapid one.
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