On Friday afternoon, perhaps the Last Great Service Time debacle in this White Sox rebuild was settled, as the club announced that second baseman Nick Madrigal would be joining the team for tonight’s game in Kansas City. The move, first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN, did not come as much of a surprise, as the threshold for an extra year of service time had recently passed.
BREAKING: Per @JeffPassan, the White Sox are calling up second baseman, Nick Madrigal. Madrigal, the Sox No. 4 prospect, will join the team in Kansas City #WhiteSox #ChangeTheGame @ShoelessGoatPod pic.twitter.com/xAIIEJjhsm
— Sports ON Tap Chicago (@SONTChicago) July 31, 2020
While the timing of the call up is certainly suspect, it is refreshing to know that from Game 7 of the 2020 season onwards the White Sox will have their best 30 available every day. Madrigal, the 4th rated prospect in the White Sox system and the 4th overall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft, will start at second in his debut, batting ninth.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) July 31, 2020
While Madrigal is known as a guy who puts the ball in play at an absurd clip, limiting both strikeouts and walks to an absolute minimum, he did struggle some in the exhibition season and back in Arizona. For those reasons, I had tried to convince myself that the White Sox had put him in Schaumburg for the simple reason that they truly felt Leury Garcia was the better option at second. Offensively, that may be true, but as Opening Night showed defensively there is no argument.
The fact that Madrigal was called up now should extinguish any thought that his demotion had to do with anything other than service time. With a thin lineup that limped out of the gate against the Twins, it was even more maddening to think that the best option at second base was playing catch in Schaumburg so the team could keep him for another year. With the White Sox sitting in last in the AL Central at 2-4 through 10% of the season, the “every game counts” mantra seemed to be taking a back seat to “every dollar counts”.
While I could sit here all night and complain about the service time manipulation garbage the Sox pulled here, I want to focus on the positives of Madrigal’s call up. He should’ve been here a week ago, but nothing can change that now.
So, what is Nick Madrigal going to bring to the 2020 White Sox? Well, if he can profile anything like he has in the minors, he’s going to at a bare minimum be someone who makes things interesting at the bottom of the order.
Clearly, Nick Madrigal isn’t a power threat. Assuming he can make the adjustment to big league pitching, he’s going to at the very least spray the ball around the field. He won’t walk a lot, but he won’t strike out a lot. In the nine slot of a roster full of feast or famine type hitters that seem to flex their power all at once or go cold all at once, having Madrigal pester a pitcher in the nine slot before the lineup gets racked up again will be a great benefit.
He isn’t going to hit 20 homers, but if he can hit around .280-.300 with a low strikeout rate and make some noise on the basepaths, he’ll be able to inject a skillset into this lineup that it’s missing. When the rest of the lineup goes cold, Madrigal is the type of player who can stir the drink.
On the defensive side of the ball, Madrigal will be a steady force who can help contain the ground ball heavy approach of Dallas Keuchel. As the last week showed, he’s likely the best option in the organization at the position. Having that buoy in a somewhat defensively challenged roster can only help.
Last but not least, Madrigal is a smart player who knows what he’s doing in basically any scenario. He can adapt his game and approach to what is needed at any particular moment, so long as it’s not a home run. Players like that are valuable, not always in the MVP sense, but in the ability to keep a lineup flowing for nine innings.
I won’t really speculate what Madrigal will turn into long term – at the very least I’d expect a steady major league starter, but his bat really will dictate where he goes. Whether an extremely high contact tool can carry him until if/when he develops power is certainly a fair question.
I have confidence in the type of player he is and what he can grow into, but time will tell. In 2020, I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table, and whether his spark can inject some life into a slow start to the season.
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