The White Sox selected Oregon State middle infielder Nick Madrigal with the fourth pick in the MLB Draft on Monday.
So why take a 5-7, 165-pounder who doesn’t have much power and might have to prove he has the arm to play shortstop when the Sox already have Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson?
Because Madrigal can hit, that’s why. The Sox veered from their pitching leanings in recent drafts by taking skilled hitters with their first three selections last year, and Madrigal emerged as a top prospect because of his exceptional hitting. He has extra-base pop in his bat and a selective batting eye, makes consistent hard contact and is tough to strike out. He was widely regarded as the best hitter in the draft.
“First and foremost, we got who we felt was the best baseball player in the draft,’’ Sox scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “He is a high-contact, high-on-base guy who plays with tremendous energy. Makeup is second to none.
“This is a pure all-around baseball player and over time you are going to see the power develop.’’
Madrigal played much of his college career at second base, where he has flashed Gold Glove-caliber defense, but the Sox plan to send him out — starting at High Class A Winston-Salem, Hostetler suggested — as a shortstop, have him play second, too, and perhaps some third base as well.
“I’ve played shortstop my whole life; I know I can do it,’’ said Madrigal, who is playing second base for Oregon State, which advanced to the Super Regionals over the weekend.
Limited to 32 games because of a wrist injury that sidelined him early on, Madrigal is batting .406/.470/.586 with five strikeouts and 13 walks for the Beavers (47-10). He has three homers and 11 stolen bases in 11 attempts.
The Sox’ farm system, which climbed from bottom-feeder status in prospect rankings to the top tier in the last two years because of trades for other organizations’ prospects and an expensive international amateur signing (Luis Robert), is thin in middle infielders. Going into the draft, Hostetler said the Sox would take the best player available over a need in their farm system, and this pick probably checked off both for the organization.
“I know they have a plan one way or another,’’ Madrigal said. “I just want to go out and play.’’
As for his size, look no further than second basemen Jose Altuve (5-6) and Dustin Pedroia (5-9) as reasons not to sell Madrigal short.
“Baseball’s one of those games where height really doesn’t matter at all,’’ said Madrigal, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2016, the Pac-12 Player of the Year in ’17 and a semifinalist for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy this year. “When I take the field, honestly, my height never crosses my mind. When I get in the game, I feel comfortable. I feel like I’m the biggest guy out there.’’
The Sox also took Oklahoma outfielder Steele Walker with the 46th overall pick (second round). Hostetler projects Walker, whose best tool is his left-handed bat, as a center fielder.
“He’s a plus runner with plus power, average to above-average hit tool,’’ Hostetler said.
Hostetler raved about Walker’s makeup as well as Madrigal’s. In Walker, he believes the Sox got a first-round player who slipped to the second round.
The draft, which has 40 rounds, continues through Wednesday.
From MLB Network. That’s Madrigal on the left.