White Sox first-round pick Garrett Crochet was asked to name the player who has impressed him the most in his first taste of pro ball.
His answer will shock no one.
“I'd say Nick Madrigal,” Crochet said. “I'm sure it's not a surprise to most people.”
Give Crochet credit. He’s fresh out of college, and he can read a room.
If it weren’t for a zeroed-in focus on Rick Renteria’s daily lineups in the first week of action in this most unusual 2020 season, White Sox Twitter’s top target would be the team’s decision to leave Madrigal off the Opening Day roster — and that's taking up plenty of room on the internet, too. Despite earning rave reviews during “Summer Camp,” the game’s No. 39 prospect is with the rest of the player pool at the alternate training site in Schaumburg.
After he performed as advertised at three minor league levels in 2019 — he struck out only 17 times! — there were plenty of calls to make him the White Sox starting second baseman from Day 1 in this 60-game sprint to the postseason. That the White Sox started that sprint 1-4, after spending all of “Summer Camp” saying how critical it was to get off to a fast start, only seemed to point to the need to get the guy who sure seems like the organization’s best second baseman to the majors as soon as possible.
The explanation given by general manager Rick Hahn for sending Madrigal to Schaumburg to start the season?
“In the end, we felt the lineup was stronger and overall we were going to be more productive with Leury (García) at second base providing us that switch-hitting presence in the lineup,” Hahn said a week ago. “Currently, Leury seems — his timing, his readiness seems to be a little ahead of where Nicky was over the last couple weeks.”
Whether you agree or not, know that during this rebuilding project, the White Sox have not operated under the assumption that a need at the big league level would determine when their highest rated prospects get promoted. That has irked plenty of fans along the way, but Michael Kopech, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert all made their major league debuts on that schedule and the methodical nature of the rebuild has seemingly set the White Sox up for long-term success. It’d be nothing more than wishful thinking to assume they’d change gears now.
Even with Renteria and his players talking playoffs for months, Hahn has always hammered home that this is a long-term endeavor. And it’s the long term that continues to drive the team’s decisions. Including the one with Madrigal.
“We've talked about this for years,” he said last week, specifically referencing Nomar Mazara being on the injured list opening up a potential spot for Madrigal, “we really don't want to let an injury at the big league level affect the timeline for a prospect promotion. We really want to make this decision over what was best for the club overall, as well as consideration for Nicky's long-term development. … We still think the world of him and believe he's going to help us at some point over the summer.”
As for at what point this summer — which is only two months long this year as opposed to its usual six-month stretch, in baseball terms, certainly not by Chicago-weather standards — Madrigal could arrive, the thinking has been that it might not be long.
While everything else about this baseball season counts as uncharted waters, service time is still a thing. And while the White Sox have never said that service-time considerations play a role in their decision making with prospects, the realities of baseball are what they are. And if Madrigal’s big league debut comes just roughly a week into this season instead of coming back on Opening Day, the White Sox would gain an extra year of team control on a talented young player.
It’s frustrating to fans, and it’s got to be even more frustrating for the player. But it’s reality. And the reward, in the long term, is a big one for the franchise. The White Sox are trying to keep a contention window open for as long as possible, and they’ve gone a long way in doing that with recent contract extensions for young players like Jiménez, Robert and Yoán Moncada. Keeping Madrigal under control for as long as possible helps the White Sox stay competitive for as long as possible.
And so the only concrete public evaluation the White Sox are willing to make on Madrigal is this: After reaching Triple-A last season, he’s close to reaching the majors.
“He's pretty close,” White Sox director of player development Chris Getz said Thursday in Schaumburg. “It's purely putting him in a position to succeed when he gets there. His starter kit is pretty good as is, but we want to make sure we're getting the most out of him right out of the gate.”
Certainly the White Sox saying Madrigal has a bit more to prove before earning his major league call-up is nothing new. Hahn said it all the way back in January. Madrigal didn’t get as much time as he would’ve liked to prove himself during spring training, with the sport shut down in March. He was lauded for the improvements he made between the abrupt end of spring training and the start of “Summer Camp” at the beginning of the month.
But despite saying he never wanted anything as badly as he wanted to break camp with the big league team, the White Sox still want to see more.
“Being around him in major league camp,” Getz said, “watching him go about his business there, seeing some things here to fine tune and then going to work while he's been here, he's taken to some of the discussions we've had, some things to focus on. Wasn't too far off.
“It's really about getting comfortable in the box. We know what he can do defensively. Just his game awareness, it's certainly above average. What really is going to separate him is getting comfortable in the box, creating rhythm and focusing on pitches he can hit.”
If the call comes shortly, it will certainly be a wonder as to how Madrigal could have developed from not ready to ready in just a few days at Schaumburg. If the call doesn’t come soon, it will be a wonder as to how he’ll be able to prove what he needs to prove without a minor league schedule this year. Getz said Thursday that the setup in Schaumburg is allowing for players to develop. The White Sox have some talented young pitchers, but can Madrigal go from minor leaguer to major league just by facing his own teammates?
A promotion this season would figure to provide an answer. As for when that promotion will come? Stay tuned.