How did Nick Madrigal feel about being left off the White Sox roster for Opening Day?
“I was a little mad,” he said.
Maybe more than a little.
“He actually didn’t shake my hand when I told him he wasn’t going to make the club,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He just turned around and walked out. And I was like, ‘OK.’
Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise after Madrigal said that he never wanted anything in his life as badly as he wanted to be a part of the 30-man group that broke “Summer Camp.” Instead, he was sent to Schaumburg, the team’s alternate training site, with general manager Rick Hahn saying the day before the season started that the White Sox were better offensively with Leury García manning second base until Madrigal was able to thrive on an everyday basis at the major league level.
Certain White Sox fans had a hard time believing that after all the rave reviews Madrigal received during camp. He was described as a different-looking player from the guy who didn’t necessarily blow the doors off spring training months earlier.
If you thought you had a gripe about Madrigal not being a part of Renteria’s lineups for the first week of the White Sox regular season, imagine how Madrigal felt.
“I was disappointed,” he said. “I really felt like I could help the team win from the beginning, and that was one of my goals, to try to be there from the first game. It just didn’t work out.
“When I went to Schaumburg, I wasn’t down at all. That night they told me I was going down, I was a little mad, but the very next day I kind of locked back in. It’s not my style to pout and be angry for more than a couple of days.”
Madrigal sat in Schaumburg and watched the big league club stumble to a 1-4 record in its first five games. Again, if you thought you were irked by the team’s sluggish start, there was someone out there with the skill set to make a difference feeling the same way.
“It was tough,” he said. “I watched every single inning, pretty much every single pitch of the game. I was following along like I was a super fan out there. It was tough not being there on the field with the team, especially through the ups and downs.
“I just tried to stay positive through it all. I was hoping my day would come soon where I could join the team. I wanted to follow along so closely just to know what everyone is doing and what’s going on. It was definitely tough watching the game.”
And so a week after Madrigal was deemed not ready for primetime, he was the starting second baseman, batting ninth for the White Sox in their series-opener against the Kansas City Royals on Friday night in Missouri.
Now that Madrigal has finally reached the majors, Renteria can look back on the walk-out routine and appreciate what it told him about his new second baseman.
“That’s the competitor,” Renteria said. “As a former player, you see a guy react a certain way, you understand it, you get it. It’s one of those things you love about a competitive nature.
“There’s something that comes with seeing somebody that has a chance of fulfilling a huge promise in his ability to perform. It was no indication of who he is, just that he’s a fighter and he wanted to make the club.”
It’s interesting to hear that Madrigal could’ve evolved from not ready to ready simply by facing White Sox minor leaguers in simulated games for a week, but unsurprisingly, team brass had nothing but positive reviews for his brief time in Schaumburg.
“We were trying to get him some more at-bats down there, and he was working very well,” Renteria said. “(White Sox player-development boss Chris Getz) thought he looked much more loose, much more comfortable, albeit (in) simulated or intrasquad games. He was zoning in a little better. And everybody felt comfortable it was time to give him an opportunity, and we’re going to do just that.
“(Getz) felt originally that (Madrigal) was stiffening up, a little tense toward the end of camp. He went down, was zoning in a little better down there, was much more relaxed, much more comfortable, kind of getting back to what they wanted him to do. And for all intents and purposes, they believed he had worked his way through making the adjustments, and everybody felt he could come up here and give us a hand.”
Madrigal isn’t out to prove the White Sox wrong for not including him on their Opening Day roster. He’s not using his week-long stay in Schaumburg as extra motivation. He’s out to be the player they thought he could be when they drafted him fourth overall two summers ago. That night, there was talk of Gold Glove caliber defense and the ability to knock the ball all over the field. His insane contact ability allowed him to strike out just 17 times while playing at three minor league levels last season.
But now the challenge is as steep as it gets: big league pitching.
Lucas Giolito, the White Sox ace, theorized that he didn’t see Madrigal swing and miss at all during camp. But now it’s time to see if that anti-modern, high-contact, singles-hitting style — with a questionable level of the kind of power that is such a large part of baseball in 2020 — will fly.
“We’re going to find out,” Renteria said. “The more he starts getting comfortable with the pitching, you’re going to see a guy — because he’s got bat speed, can put the bat on the ball — he’ll put some balls in the gap.
“I’m sure that his overall game is going to be his plus: to be able to defend, to be able to run the bases, to be able to be part of the leadership out there in the field and then give you some at-bats that drive pitchers crazy a little bit, open it up for the next hitter behind him.
“I wouldn’t necessarily worry about the power. … He has a history of being a winning player, and he also has a history of hitting some balls out of the ballpark. As he finds himself with who he is as a hitter and the completeness that it entails at the major league level, hopefully in time, sooner rather than later, we’ll find out what kind of player he is.”
It’s a challenge for the White Sox as a whole now, too, all the hype about just how extraordinary the future could be needing to come true before they start planning parade routes. But at least all the pieces have finally reached the major leagues.
Once Nomar Mazara returns from the injured list, Renteria will finally have that team he’s been dreaming of, the same one fans have longed for during the rebuilding years: José Abreu at first base, Madrigal next to him, Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada on the left side of the infield, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Mazara across the outfield, Yasmani Grandal behind the plate.
Madrigal has, the White Sox hope, completed the puzzle. This is what everyone’s been waiting for on the South Side. The future is now.
“The excitement for everybody is palpable finally seeing all these young men on the field at the major league level,” Renteria said. “Ultimately it’s going to be about performance at the major league level, and hopefully it occurs on a consistent basis. But finally having them, for the most part, all together, it’s nice to see.”