If Winning is the Goal, Nick Madrigal is in the White Sox Opening Day Lineup

If you watched Wednesday’s intrasquad scrimmage on NBC Sports Chicago, you’ll know that what I’m about to say is true, and I’ll say this as bluntly as I possibly can: If the White Sox (truly) intend on winning in 2020, they need to open the season with Nick Madrigal as their second baseman.

“But, what about that extra year of service time they could gain?”

Who cares.

It’s 2020, and we’re talking about six seasons from now. This core, which the White Sox have spent years constructing, is built for the present. By the time Madrigal is ready to reach free-agency, who knows what this team will look like.

In Madrigal’s first at-bat Wednesday, he grounded out to pitcher Ross Detwiler, but only after forcing an eight-pitch at-bat, something that he’ll do plenty for the White Sox. With a lineup as potent as what we envision this one being, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a guy who can grind out long at-bats, irritate a starting pitcher, and draw out his pitch count.

Even Lucas Giolito pointed out how annoying Nick Madrigal was to face when he was on the bump in the intrasquad game.

Sure, Madrigal’s 6-27 mark at the plate didn’t scream, “I’m ready,” but White Sox third base coach Nick Capra expressed what we’re all seeing in this rebooted version of Spring Training, Madrigal is substantially more comfortable than he was in Glendale a few months ago.

“In a better place, more focused, relaxed, confident,” Capra said. “We see the things we knew we had when we drafted him. You can see it in his eyes. He’s getting back to being a baseball player we know he can be.”

Madrigal came out of Spring Training not phased by what the box score said, focused on getting better by Opening Day.

“It’s one of those things. I feel like I’m seeing the ball well,” said Madrigal. “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.”

Outside of the ground out, Madrigal reached base twice, stole a base to put himself into scoring position, and score on a Luis Robert double down the left-field line. Here’s a look at a base hit up the middle in his third plate appearance in the afternoon.

He also made two excellent plays defensively, first he showed off his range and footwork with a nice play to his right on a Zack Collins grounder deep in the hole.

Video: NBC Sports Chicago – Major League Baseball

In the fourth inning, he delivered an absolute dart to the plate to cut down Yermin Mercedes, preserving a scoreless outing by starter Dallas Keuchel.

Video: NBC Sports Chicago – Major League Baseball

Madrigal’s defense on the right side of second base can’t be talked about enough, especially when a guy like Dallas Keuchel is on the mound hunting for ground balls.

Rick Hahn said that Madrigal is a candidate to break with the team, and he’d be wise to give that idea an even greater amount of consideration after Madrigal has shown himself to be more comfortable here in Summer Camp.

“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.”

New White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino worked with Madrigal in Triple-A Charlotte last season, and he told the media this past weekend that he believes that the three-month quarantine helped Madrigal immensely.

“Coming out of college, going into a pro season, then an offseason, and then his first full season – he looks really good,” Menechino said. “He’s a lot stronger. I’m proud of the work that he’s done in these three months. I can tell he worked his butt off.”

“He looks stronger, but I think he cleaned up his bat path so he’s barreling the ball more,” Menechino said.

Madrigal hasn’t shown much pop in his time with the big league squad, and he probably needs to up his walk rate, but he’s going to hit at the major-league level. Madrigal came into 2020 with a 70-grade hit tool according to MLB Pipeline, and he has a three percent strikeout rate throughout his professional career since being drafted in June of 2018.

But even with the best still to come regarding his hit tool, he’s still the best option for the White Sox at second base. Between his ability to work counts, find a way on base, steal bases (35-48 in 2019) to get into scoring position, and play Gold Glove-caliber defense at second base, something the White Sox very much need, especially in an abbreviated 60-game season where they can’t afford to give away runs or games defensively.

The White Sox players are adamant that they’re ready to win, but is the front office ready to turn the page in their rebuild? White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said it best this week on the White Sox Talk podcast with Chuck Garfien, “The train’s going, we gotta catch those windows while they’re open.”

The train is indeed going, and if the White Sox front office is as serious about winning as the players are, then Nick Madrigal making the Opening Day roster is a no-brainer.

Feature Photo: Chicago Sun-Times

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