PEORIA, Ariz. — Can Nick Madrigal rise above?
The White Sox are counting on the 5-7 second baseman who’s short on physical stature but long on baseball savvy to prove they know what they’re doing with premium draft picks. Aside from Chris Sale in 2010, the Sox have not exactly hit it big in the first round.
2017 — third baseman Jake Burger.
2016 — catcher Zack Collins.
2016A — righty Zack Burdi.
2015 — righty Carson Fulmer.
2014 — lefty Carlos Rodon.
2013 — shortstop Tim Anderson.
2012 — outfielder Courtney Hawkins.
2012A — outfielder Keon Barnum.
2011 — outfielder Keenyn Walker.
The Sox’ grand slam of picks from 1987 through 1990 of Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas and Alex Fernandez is legendary, and it laid a foundation of quality teams for years to come. But what followed from then through Sale looks like this:
Scott Ruffcorn, Eddie Pearson, Scott Christman, Mark Johnson, Chris Clemons, Jeff Liefer, Bobby Seay, Jason Dellaero, Kyle Kane, Brett Caradonna, Aaron Myette, Jim Parque, Rocky Biddle, Kip Wells, Aaron Rowand, Jason Stumm, Matt Ginter, Brian West, Rob Purvis, Joe Borchard, Kris Honel, Wyatt Allen, Royce Ring, Brian Anderson, Josh Fields, Tyler Lumsden, Gio Gonzalez, Lance Broadway, Kyle McCulloch, Aaron Poreda, Gordon Beckham, Jared Mitchell.
While that poor track record qualifies as old news, the current news is there are concerns about Collins’ defense (some say he’s destined for first base), minor-league batting average (.232) and strikeouts (158 at Class AA Birmingham last season) and whether Fulmer (6.68 career ERA) will be a bust. Burger and Burdi already missed full seasons with Achilles and elbow injuries, respectively, and are behind on their development paths but might be heard from before it’s over. Collins is the Sox’ No. 8-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com.
Rodon, 26, and Anderson, 26, while viewed as a potential No. 1 or 2 starter and perhaps All-Star shortstop, respectively, have significant strides to make before reaching those levels.
Against that backdrop, enter Madrigal. The Sox are moving Yoan Moncada, the prized prospect acquired in the Sale trade with the Red Sox, to third base to make room. With 43 games of minor-league ball on his résumé, Madrigal has a ways to go but might be pushed on a faster-than-usual track to the majors.
“The real good ones end up pushing you,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. “We’ll ultimately see where he fits in. Very bright young man. Very polished.”
While Moncada’s focus in the middle of the infield has come under Renteria’s scrutiny, inserting Madrigal’s sense of awareness in a place where that’s especially needed makes good baseball sense.
“He doesn’t take a moment off offensively and defensively, and the effect it has on your team is great,’’ Sox director of player development Chris Getz said after Madrigal completed his first pro season. “You have a middle-of-the-diamond player who is ready for anything, and it increases the focus of everyone.’’
Madrigal is more than grit, smarts and guts, the Sox believe. He was viewed as perhaps the best college hitter in the draft (although he showed virtually no power last summer, batting .303/.353/.348 while striking out five times in 155 at-bats, mostly in Class A) and is skilled defensively, so there is plenty to like about his skill set.
Madrigal says he’s extremely comfortable at this level and is saying he wants to win the job in camp, which isn’t going to happen no matter what he shows in Cactus League games. It’s just too soon, no matter how polished he might look.
“This is not a surprise to me, to be at big-league camp,” he said Sunday. “I’ve prepared for this mentally for a while now.’’
Watching him trying to prove he’s close will be one of the more worthwhile things to monitor in camp.