What’s the White Sox plan for second base in 2020?
Depends on when you ask.
“If we sat here today,” general manager Rick Hahn said during his pre-SoxFest press conference Thursday, “it would be some combination of Leury Garcia, Danny Mendick and Nick Madrigal.
“Ask me again on March 25.”
Presumably, Hahn and manager Rick Renteria will be asked many more times between now and then.
It doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult question to answer if we’re talking about the bulk of the 2020 campaign, as Madrigal — ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball — figures to be the guy at second base for a majority of the season. But with just 29 games played at Triple-A Charlotte last year, the White Sox might not be as ready for him to make the leap to the bigs as the fan base seems to be.
“He's got a few more things to prove,” Hahn said. “I think that when we go through trying to be as objective as possible thinking about where he is developmentally, he hasn't necessarily answered all the questions we have for him at the minor leagues.
“But we're going to go in with fresh eyes and a fresh approach in spring training and see where he's at and in all probability make an assessment there.
“I don't think we have him, by any means, written in pen as the Opening Day second baseman at this point, if that's what you mean. But could he change our minds? Yeah.”
Madrigal just might do that. After all, the bat-to-ball skills that continue to be described as “elite” are still there. He struck out just 16 times — 16 times! — in 532 trips to the plate between three levels of the minor leagues in 2019. He’s had his defense talked up as Gold Glove caliber since the White Sox selected him with the No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft. All the rave reviews are still there.
Considering the alternatives are two guys who seem to be ticketed for reserve status, at best, in Garcia and Mendick, it’s no shocking thing to suggest that Madrigal is probably the organization’s best second baseman. But during this rebuilding process, the White Sox have been consistently patient with their prospects, an approach that has maddened fans at times. But Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez arrived at the big leagues eventually, and a big-money extension for Luis Robert has cleared his path to an Opening Day roster spot a year after he set the minor leagues on fire.
“We still want him to get more at-bats,” Renteria said of Madrigal on Thursday. “I want to see him out there defensively. He can catch the ball. We already know that he's a heady player. I think we want him to still have the at-bats this spring to see big league play, more big league pitchers.”
And so you can begin to envision an Opening Day lineup without Madrigal in it as he continues to polish off the final stage of his minor league development in Charlotte. That means Garcia, likely, as the Opening Day second baseman and the main option there until the White Sox deem Madrigal ready for the major league stage. Mendick will probably earn a roster spot, as well, and he might see more time than expected should Renteria opt to utilize Garcia’s versatility in the outfield on any sort of regular basis.
While there are plenty of guys out there on the free-agent market that might strike as better options than those two — and the White Sox might not be done making smaller additions before Opening Day — it might also not make the most sense to pay for someone who will be backing up Madrigal in a matter of weeks or a couple of months. Just something to consider.
Anyway, Madrigal’s really going to have to blow the doors off the Cactus League, it would seem, if he’s going to be starting alongside Robert & Co. in the March 26 opener against Kansas City. But until he and the White Sox get down to Arizona, the answer can’t be more certain than “maybe, but probably not.”
But, hey, feel free to ask Hahn again come March 25.