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Beavers in MLB: Talking With Southside Sox About Nick Madrigal’s Rookie Season

One of the best Beavers in recent memory finally made his pro debut this year. Here’s how it went.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Chicago White Sox Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most highly touted baseball prospects to come out of Oregon State has finished his first season. Nick Madrigal, who was drafted 4th overall by the White Sox back in 2018, finally made his pro debut in the shortened 2020 season, after spending 2019 rapidly ascending Chicago’s farm system.

Madrigal’s first start, on July 31st against Kansas City, was rough. He went 0-3, though he did reach base once on a fielding error. The next day wasn’t much better, with Madrigal going hitless on his 5 plate appearances. Then, on August 2nd, he finally broke through. He finished with 4 hits, 2 runs and an RBI. He’d get one more hit on August 4th, but injured his shoulder going for a slide in the third inning.

It would be a few weeks before Madrigal returned to the lineup. He finally made his way back on August 29th. In that game, a loss against the Royals, Madrigal managed 2 Hits. The next day, he got 3. The day after, another 2. Madrigal managed a hit in each of his first six games after his return.

Chicago White Sox v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Madrigal kept up a great pace for the rest of the regular season, and while the White Sox usually had him batting ninth, they experimented with moving him to the top of the order a few times, where he continued to perform. He finished the regular season with a total of 35 Hits, 11 RBI and 8 Runs, from 109 plate appearances. He only struck out 11 times, and was walked four times.

The White Sox made the playoffs as a wildcard, giving Madrigal an early taste of the postseason. They faced Oakland in the first round, and while Madrigal didn’t get a hit, going 0-4, Chicago would get the win, 4-1.

The second game would go much worse. Madrigal had two costly errors in the field, including one in the first inning which gave Oakland 2 runs. Madrigal also committed a baserunning error later in the game which doused a potential White Sox comeback. It was not the kind of game you want to see from your highly touted rookie.

The Sox lost that game 5-3, and then lost game three 6-4 to end their season. Madrigal picked up 3 hits and 1 run in the series, but his errors in game 2 put a shadow over his postseason performance.

I wanted to see how White Sox fans were feeling about Madrigal after his rookie season, so I reached out to Southside Sox to get their thoughts. Their editor, Brett Ballantini, was nice enough to get back to me, so I sent him a few questions. Here’s what he had to say.

John: How do you feel Madrigal has acclimated to the pro game? Based on his stats, he’s performed similarly to his time at Oregon State, good at making contact, great at not striking out, but not a lot of power.

Brett: As for Nick’s acclimation, he had that initial hitless stretch (0-for-8 or 12 I think) and then went bananas. His hit tool is spot on: contact, an INCREDIBLE two-strike hitter (something like .350-.400 with two strikes?, best in or close to best in the bigs). So, Nick can hit. Better than expected. The power, first off, who cares. Second, he was asked about this multiple times during the year and says he’s not worried, it’ll come. He asked team vets and they all reassured him it’ll come, a year or two into his career, not to worry. Also, when he was rehabbing his shoulder injury at the alternate site in Schaumburg, Nick took a ball off of the scoreboard during a scrimmage. Unrelated, when I played a sim season (only got into July I think, when the actual season kicked off) during the pandemic delay, Madrigal started the season with my White Sox and had like eight homers in the first half. So, someone in the Out of the Park sim game likes Nick’s power.

If there is a worry, it’s that his game instincts aren’t as advertised. He’s said to be a “smart” player, etc., but there were occasions, particularly baserunning, where he seemed very untailored. Sure, rookie mistakes, but Nick was advertised (and drafted) as a guy very ready, with ideal instincts. So, hitting better than expected, feel for the game more raw than anticipated.

John: Madrigal got himself injured pretty early in the season. Is there any concern about his health going forward?

Brett: The injury was an example of Nick letting his aggression get the best of him. It’s an adjustment for him to not be able to control the game like he’s used to, perhaps even at the college level. He made an aggressive first-to-third advance on a single to center and jammed his arm on the slide trying to avoid the ball. I don’t think there’s concern about his health from that injury; that his aggressiveness might cause some problems in the future, perhaps.

John: How is the White Sox fan base feeling after his performance in the final playoff game? I could see that raising some doubts.

Brett: It was Game 2 that was REALLY rough for Nick, defensively in particular. Again, any concern would stem from fans being a little thrown that what Madrigal was touted as — a Gold Glove second baseman (and he was in 2019, in the minors) — not showing up in the majors. To Nick’s credit, he is taking everything in stride. Smart guy, confident but very willing to work hard. I think his leap baserunning and defensively will be significant in 2021.

John: Sort of a follow up that last question. What is the general feeling about Madrigal’s future with the team? How has he performed compared to the expectations you’d expect for a fourth overall pick? Do you think Chicago is set at 2nd base going forward?

Brett: While the White Sox did still game Nick’s service time in 2020 by not having him break with the team, then calling him up right after getting another year of control, that can actually be looked at as how important he is to the team going forward. He is absolutely the second baseman of the future for the White Sox, and the team feels they are set there. If Nick is the weakest link, worst case, average defense, below average power, tough leader, great contact, I think they’d take it, no sweat. I’ve always thought that if Nick could be as good as Scott Fletcher — not the worst comp, but no science applied to it — the White Sox, and fans, should be overjoyed. Even for a No. 4 pick.

Wild Card Round - Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics - Game Two Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Once again, thanks to Brett for answering my questions. If you’re interested in following Madrigal’s career in the pros, definitely check out Southside Sox. They’re getting started on their White Sox Offseason Plan Project, so there’s’ going to be some great content coming out.