White Sox

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

When the White Sox drafted Nick Madrigal with the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft he was known as an elite contact hitter who could play good defense on the infield.

In nearly a year in the minors, that has mostly held true, but not exactly according to plan. Madrigal raced through three levels of the minors in 2018 and hit .303 in 43 games between those three stops. He only had five strikeouts.

This season has not gone as smoothly. Madrigal is hitting .261 for Single-A Winston-Salem, but he still isn’t striking out much at all. In fact, according to a write-up on Milb.com, Madrigal leads of all minor league baseball with a 3.3 percent strikeout rate.

“Madrigal has plus speed, and that should lead to more hits as his sample increases, but he'll have to hit a lot more to provide value from his specific profile,” Sam Dykstra wrote.

So what’s with Madrigal not hitting for higher average? How can a batter strikeout so rarely and not find more hits?

White Sox director of amateur scouting Nick Hostetler, one of the key decision makers in drafting Madrigal, talked about Madrigal’s progress on an episode of the White Sox Talk podcast earlier this week.

“The one thing he’s still doing is making contact,” Hostetler said. “So that is what we expected. We expected that out of him. I’m not sure he was probably expecting the streaks. I think he’s dealt with a lot of streaks in his offensive game this year. I think he had one stretch that was 0-for-16 or 17 and he came back with a couple hits. So he’s been a little streaky this year. But I think he’s starting to learn. He’s starting to develop. He’s had one home run. He’s starting to hit some doubles, but he’s starting to learn to get the ball in the air a little bit. He’s learning how teams are shifting him, how they’re playing him.”

The shifts Hostetler referred to are another interesting part of Madrigal’s unusual profile. He is actually going to opposite field more than pulling the ball down left field and opposing defenses are playing him accordingly. That could be one reason to explain why Madrigal isn’t getting more hits out of all the balls he is putting in play.

He is showing a bit more power this year as opposed to last year (11 extra base hits vs. 7 in only 10 more plate appearances). His spray charts for 2018 and 2019 show he is pulling the ball more than he used to, a sign that he is adjusting.

2018 spray chart:

2019 spray chart:

Note that Madrigal has more balls resulting in hits getting pulled down the left field side than he had last year. As defenses are shifting him to hit the ball to opposite field, as Hostetler noted, this will be a key part of his development.

He is showing progress in other areas. He is drawing more walks (14 this season vs. 7 last year) and is showing off his speed with 12 stolen bases.

Hostetler isn’t pushing the panic button on Madrigal.

“This is part of development,” Hostetler said. “Unfortunately the new wave we’re in everybody thinks ‘well, they’re a college guy and he’s drafted so high he needs to hit like this and go right away and be there in a year.’ Some guys just take a little bit.

“The one thing I’ll say is the defense has been exactly what we thought it would be. It’s Gold Glove caliber defense and he’s making contact. As long as he keeps making contact, keep fielding those balls like he is, he’ll figure out the rest.”

 

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball

If you were paying really close attention during Game 2 of the ALCS, you saw it.

One fan in the stands at U.S. Cellular Field was hoisting a sign that perfectly summed up how the White Sox scored their runs during a 99-win regular season and during a march to the World Series.

“Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.”

Small ball was rebranded “Ozzie ball” by these White Sox, who reaped the rewards of Kenny Williams’ bold offseason trade. The general manager shipped away a productive slugger, Carlos Lee, for a speed demon on the base paths, Scott Podsednik. Lee was pretty darn good at swinging the stick. But the White Sox craved balance in their lineup, and with Podsednik’s base-stealing ability causing chaos at the top of the order, they got it and scored more runs in the first inning than any other during the 2005 season.

Paul ball, well that’s obvious. Paul Konerko was the team’s MVP in 2005. He smashed 40 homers for the second straight season and hit triple digits in RBIs for the third time in his career. He was particularly potent during the second half, helping to prevent a complete free fall out of first place with the Cleveland Indians charging in September.

And over-the-wall ball? Well, as balanced as the White Sox lineup was thanks to Podsednik’s arrival, the South Siders still hit a lot of home runs. Seven different hitters launched at least 15 dingers. Even Podsednik, who had zero of them during the regular season, got in on the power display in the playoffs, hitting one in the ALDS and a walk-off homer in the World Series.

Fast forward two nights from when that sign was lifted up on the South Side, and you saw the White Sox follow that script to a “T” in Southern California.

In the first 17.2 innings of the ALCS, the White Sox scored three measly runs. A tip of the cap to the Angels’ pitching staff, but this was not the same production from a lineup that mauled the Red Sox during the first round of the playoffs. Then A.J. Pierzynski swung, missed and ran to first base and the White Sox offense woke up. Over the course of the next five White Sox hitters to step to the plate — Joe Crede’s walk-off double to finish Game 2 and the first four batters of Game 3 — the White Sox scored four runs.

How’d they do it against John Lackey in Game 3? How do you think?

Podsednik did his thing at the top of the lineup and got on base with a leadoff hit. Then Tadahito Iguchi bunted him into scoring position ahead of Jermaine Dye’s RBI double. Paul Konerko followed with a solo homer slammed into the left-field seats — the beginning of a three-hit, three-RBI night for him — and the White Sox had a crooked number on the board. Just like that.

Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.


Of course, this all leaves out the most important ingredient in the White Sox success that season and in this series, in particular: starting pitching. While the offense took a while to wake up in the ALCS, the pitching was on point from “go.” Jose Contreras threw 8.1 innings in Game 1. Mark Buehrle allowed just one run in nine innings in Game 2. And Jon Garland followed with the second of what would be four straight complete-game efforts by White Sox starters in this series.


Though there was more to come, with Freddy Garcia and Contreras going the distance in Games 4 and 5, through three games, White Sox starters had already turned in an impressive string of games, allowing just six runs in 26.1 innings for a 2.05 ERA.

But as good as the pitching was — and it was out-of-this-world good — the White Sox needed to get back to their run-scoring ways following the quiet offensive performances in Games 1 and 2. They did just that, and not until Game 4 of the World Series did they score fewer than five runs.

When it came to how they scored those runs moving forward, the sign didn’t lie.

Small ball? Podsednik wrecked havoc the very next night in Game 4 of the ALCS, reaching base four times (thrice via the walk), stole a pair of bases and scored two runs.

Paul ball? Konerko had more damage to do, with at least one hit in each of the next five playoff games, including an unforgettable grand slam in Game 2 of the World Series.

Over-the-wall ball? The White Sox hit three homers in the final two games of the ALCS, then six more in the World Series, including iconic shots from Konerko, Podsednik and Geoff Blum.

So there are a few hundred words on the subject. But did I really do any better with all those words than that fan did with eight?

“Small ball, Paul ball, over-the-wall ball.”

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 4 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Friday on NBC Sports Chicago.

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MLB, players deeply divided with clock ticking: 'It's ugly right now'

MLB, players deeply divided with clock ticking: 'It's ugly right now'

Where do things stand right now between Major League Baseball and the players union?

Let’s just say the owners are in New York and the players are in Los Angeles. Hopefully, they can meet somewhere in the middle — like Chicago — and we can have baseball in 2020.

But it's going to take a lot of work.

MLB's much-anticipated, first economic proposal presented to the players on Tuesday features a sliding scale of pay cuts where the players making the most money lose a greater percentage of their salaries, while those making less will have smaller cuts.  

The players' didn't like it one bit.

"The owners have a long way to go," one player said.

Fortunately, this isn’t the ninth inning of negotiations. There’s still time to make a deal.  

But with the clock ticking, there’s a big divide and harsh feelings that need to be addressed.

According to one agent, “I like to think I’m an optimist, but it’s ugly right now. While it’s a complicated situation, it comes down to money. The little hope I have is cooler and sensible heads [will] prevail.”

Will the two sides come to an agreement? If so, how and when?

That’s what I discussed with my NBC Sports Chicago colleagues Adam Hoge and Vinnie Duber on this Give Me Baseball edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast. 

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