The White Sox are hoping Lucas Giolito's assessment of pitching against two of the organization's top prospects is shared by opposing hurlers for years to come.
"They're a pain in my ass."
The White Sox would be thrilled if Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn are the same kinds of irritants to the rest of the American League that they were to Giolito during Monday's intrasquad game on the South Side. It wasn't so much the results — though both were involved in a busy first inning for Giolito, with Madrigal making things happen on the base paths and scoring on a Yasmani Grandal throwing error — but the at-bats themselves that challenged the All Star.
Opening Day might come with neither of the two first-round picks on the active roster. But they're both big parts of the White Sox long-term plans. And if Giolito's reviews are any indication, they might be ready to tangle with major league pitchers right now.
"You've got Nick spitting on some fastballs just out of the zone (that's taking tough pitches, in baseball lingo, for those afraid Madrigal was violating MLB's spitting ban), shooting one to right field. Andrew Vaughn, when I was throwing to him in quarantine — back when we were in California, I was throwing live bullpens, and he faced me — he's one of the few guys, I've noticed, that can really see my changeup well, and he'll spit on my changeup just out of the zone," Giolito said. "That makes me excited that they're on our team and I don't have to face them in the future because they're tough outs."
Indeed, both Madrigal and Vaughn are promising young players, and that has plenty of fans clamoring they be thrust into the majors as soon as possible, hopeful their presence will help fuel the White Sox quest for a postseason berth in 2020. Madrigal can very easily be described as the organization's best second baseman, at any level, and Vaughn sure looks capable of handling a bat at any level, especially after he took one of the White Sox veteran free-agent additions, Gio González, deep in Sunday's intrasquad tilt.
But the White Sox have been consistent during this rebuilding process in taking their time with their highest rated prospects. Fans stewed while the team waited for the right moment to bring Michael Kopech, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert to the majors. It wouldn't be surprising, even as they move out of rebuilding mode and into contending mode, for the White Sox to treat Madrigal and Vaughn the same way.
Madrigal's case is the most interesting, as he was set to be the team's second baseman for the bulk of the season but still had things he needed to show team brass in the minor leagues. Now, there's no minor league season and the major league season has been squeezed down to 60 games. Service-time rules are still in effect, too. So what do the White Sox do with Madrigal? It depends how far along they believe he is and whether he helps them more in this short, weird season or in a hopefully normal season in 2021. Seemingly the most likely outcome: He arrives about a week or so into the 2020 season.
Vaughn's situation is less complicated. He doesn't have what Madrigal has on his resume: a full season of success at various levels of the minor league system. And even though he's been playing a little bit of third base during "Summer Camp," he's probably not being groomed as an emergency replacement for Yoán Moncada, currently on the injured list. Instead, the White Sox are keeping him versatile. After all, Vaughn's regular position, first base, figures to be occupied for a while after José Abreu signed a new three-year contract over the winter. Edwin Encarnación is expected to soak up the majority of at-bats at designated hitter this season, and the White Sox have an option for his services in 2021, too. Keeping Vaughn as versatile as possible while those two proven vets are still on the roster makes all the sense in the world.
This might just be "Summer Camp," but the White Sox future is on display.
"It’s been phenomenal," Vaughn said Monday. "Our lineup this year is pretty stacked. Just watching those guys hit, Abreu, Encarnación, (Tim Anderson), I mean it’s pretty phenomenal being around those guys. Just trying to see how I fit in.
"The goal, always, since I was drafted was to play in the big leagues, doesn’t matter when, as soon as possible is kind of the goal. I’m just going day by day, especially in these times, put one foot ahead of the other and continue to play baseball."
The White Sox seem ready to take the next step this year, with an exciting core of Giolito, Moncada, Anderson and Jiménez teamed with the offseason additions of Grandal, Encarnación and Dallas Keuchel, not to mention the Day 1 arrival of Robert, the organization's top-ranked prospect. But the plan has always been chasing championships on an annual basis over the duration of a lengthy contention window. Madrigal and Vaughn are part of keeping that window propped open for a long time, their team-control clocks not even started yet.
"There’s a lot of excitement here, there’s a lot of excitement within this clubhouse right now and within this organization and rightfully so," White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said Monday. "Done an outstanding job to put pieces in place so that we’re able, not just to be able to sustain it for the next couple of years, but for years to come.
"We’re excited for years to come. It’s going to be pretty special."
So while its still unknown what kind of an impact Madrigal and Vaughn will make in 2020, it won't be long before they're persistent pains in the asses of pitchers all over the Junior Circuit.