With the return of the 2020 MLB season, there are few intriguing storylines that we will see play out over the next few weeks, and much like everyday life has become, these uncertainties are only posed to the White Sox because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When we last saw the White Sox, they were basking in the vibes of a team that felt it was on the cusp of something special. Maybe a playoff push, or maybe just the first step in the dawn of a new era of White Sox baseball. Either way, the roster, and the coaching staff felt pretty darn good about where they were heading back in late February.
In an early media session at Camelback Ranch, White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn had this to say, “I think we can objectively sit here today and feel like… we have three of arguably the most exciting young players in the American League under control for at least the next six years.”
While all that remains true, ‘Spring Training 2.0’ or ‘Summer Camp’ as I’ve seen it referred to by MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, will pose Rick Hahn with a few questions that the club might not have had to face in early this spring.
We’re going to try to answer some of those questions in a six-part mini-series, titled ‘Sox Six-Pack,’ and today we continue with a look at what 2020 might hold for Nick Madrigal.
As the White Sox slowly come out of suspended animation and head to Chicago to get ready for the 60-game sprint of the regular season, we can start looking deeper on one of the few position battles of any intrigue, second base.
There is no incumbent that has the edge in 2020. After winning the Gold Glove — and one assumes garnishing his wages for all the wasted Gatorade — the White Sox thanked Yolmer Sanchez for his time, and sent him on his merry way.
On the current roster, there are two options – Super-Sub Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick – both of whom had at-bats for the Sox in 2019. The third option is the 2018 first-round selection, and fourth-ranked prospect Nick Madrigal.
Previously in Spring Training, Madrigal lost a fight with a baseball, resulting in a shiner above his eye. Although for Nick, that black eye probably wasn’t as bad as going 6-for-27 in Cactus League action with zero walks and zero extra-base hits.
“It’s one of those things. I feel like I’m seeing the ball well; I just haven’t gotten the results I’ve wanted. I’m not doubting my game or anything like that. It’s just part of the game. Ultimately, I’ve got to be ready for Opening Day. That’s where it really counts.”
Little did he know, that Opening Day was going to wind up happening at the end of July.
For the Sox, this is one of their final chances to play the service time game and let Garcia get his hacks in while waiting to call Nick up and gain that extra year. In a Zoom presser last week when asked, Rick Hanh gave a predictably cagey answer, proving that general managers don’t need that many spring reps to be ready to give non-committal answers:
“Nicky, we only got to see him for a handful of games up in Glendale, but he’s been, for the portion of big league camp we’ve had so far, as advertised and certainly is a consideration for breaking with us,” Hahn said, “if not immediately then certainly helping us at some point over the course of this summer.”
Lil’ Nicky could certainly use more seasoning, but without an actual Triple-A season, the Sox prospects will be relegated to Taxi Squad games. Not all the details are known as to what the local taxi squad of prospects will be doing, but in this bizarro baseball season, I think Madrigal’s best chance to get his reps in would be with the big league squad.
The legitimacy of the whole season is always going to be questioned anyway, and with no guarantee of baseball beyond 2021, why not take this chance to have the young core get as much plating time together as possible? Use 2020 as the Core Litmus Test.
Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert signed team-friendly contract extensions to make the service time issues non-existent. There hasn’t been as much of an urgency to get that done with Madrigal, mostly because his profile isn’t the same MVP-quality as Eloy and Robert, which is exactly why I think it’s worth the risk to have him up right away and possibly sacrifice a year of Nick’s service.
Madrigal is never going to hit for power, but his absurd contact rate, microscopic strikeout totals, and gold glove caliber defense will play in the bigs. Because his profile isn’t that high, combined with the team-friendly teams most of the Sox young players are locked in to, perhaps there will be enough money to lock him up down the road. In the meantime, let the kid play!