The White Sox’ top second-base prospect, Nick Madrigal, felt like he belonged on the Opening Day roster, and, boy, did he want to be on it.
“I’ve never wanted something so much in my life, just to be a part of this team right now,” Madrigal said last week before the roster was set, “and I feel like I can help this team win.”
So when he found out his debut would have to wait — as it turned out till Friday night in Kansas City, where the Sox opened a three-game series — Madrigal said he was “a little mad.”
“He actually didn’t even shake my hand when he was told he wasn’t going to make the club,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He just turned around and walked out. And I was like, ‘OK.’ ’’
Madrigal said he got “locked in” again because “it’s not my style to pout and be angry for more than a couple of days.”
“When you see a player react a certain way, you understand it, you get it,” Renteria said. “It’s one of those things you love about a competitive nature. It was no indication of who he is except that he’s a fighter. He wanted to make this club.”
The Sox purchased the contract of their 2018 first-round draft choice and penciled him into the lineup against the Royals. He batted ninth against one of the Royals’ top prospects, left-hander Kris Bubic, a friend of Madrigal’s who also made his major-league debut.
“I imagined this moment for a long time, even since I was a little kid,” Madrigal said. “It looks a little bit different with the stadiums empty, but it’s still a dream come true and something I’ve worked extremely hard [to achieve] for a long time.”
The Sox have been starting all-purpose outfielder-infielder Leury Garcia at second base, as planned, with Madrigal waiting in the wings. By keeping Madrigal off the major-league roster for a week’s worth of games, the Sox secured an extra year of contract control, and there was no getting around the timing of the promotion.
Madrigal, who grounded out softly to second baseman Nicky Lopez in his first at-bat — immediately after Adam Engel’s homer against Bubic gave the Sox and lefty Dallas Keuchel a 3-0 lead — doesn’t hit for power but should improve the Sox defensively up the middle. In 663 total chances over three minor-league levels last season, he made only five errors. Offensively, Madrigal excels at making contact, striking out only 16 times and drawing 44 walks in 532 minor-league plate appearances last year, but he didn’t distinguish himself at the plate with the Sox during spring and summer camp. He appeared to be more relaxed and his overall performance improved in the summer, however.
In the home-run-happy, launch-angle era of baseball, will Madrigal’s bat play in the majors?
“We’re going to find out,” Renteria said. “Will he serve a purpose for us? Absolutely.
“As he gets more comfortable with the pitching, he’ll put balls in the gap because he has bat speed. His overall game is going to be his plus. Defend, run the bases, be part of the leadership out there in the field and give you at-bats that hopefully drive pitchers crazy and open it up for the hitter behind him.”
A No. 4 overall selection, Madrigal batted .311 with a .377 on-base percentage with four homers and 55 RBI in 120 total games at the three minor-league levels in 2019.
“I wouldn’t necessarily worry about the power,” Renteria said. “Those things take care of themselves. But he has a history of being a winning player, and he has a history of hitting some balls out of the park. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, we’ll find out what kind of player he is.”
MLB Pipeline ranked Madrigal as the Sox’ No. 4 prospect behind Luis Robert (1), Andrew Vaughn (2) and Michael Kopech (3).