I’m not writing a scouting report about Nick Madrigal. There are plenty of good, great, and not so great outlets who can do that for you. Besides, evaluating individual prospects, particularly amateur ones is extremely difficult. If I could take the information I have and tell you who will succeed and who won’t, I would have been hired by a team ages ago. Even players with long college track records are hardly assured of major league careers. In 2010 alone, Dustin Ackley went number two overall after four years at North Carolina only to crash and burn. Tony Sanchez went fourth in the same draft after four years at Boston College and he didn’t fare any better. Sanchez was sandwiched at three and five by two high school picks who never even made it to the majors. Grant Green went 13th after four years at Southern California and was below replacement level for his career.
Gordon Beckham hit absolutely everywhere he played for his whole life, including his first 400 major league plate appearances and then he couldn’t hit. This stuff is really, really hard to get right.
But the White Sox have given themselves about as good of a shot of landing a quality pro as they could have last night in selecting Madrigal. As you’ve likely read by now, the 5-foot-7 middle infielder has superb bat control and contact skills. He also gets high marks for his speed, instincts, and work ethic. The knocks are his size, potentially limited power, and a middling throwing arm. Beyond that profile, here are the general factors working in his favor:
- Long track record. As we’ve discussed with, say, Alec Hansen a few years ago and countless others — Brice Turang went from a 1-1 candidate to 21st overall this year, Brady Singer slid to the teens, Kumar Rocker is still on the draft board, etc. Draft boards are incredibly volatile, and guys can crater from the top five to the fourth round based on a few bad months. After all a full college season will net a player approximately 200-250 PAs. We’ve seen Giancarlo Stanton of all people have bad half seasons. Players slump, play through injuries, and so on. That’s not to say scouts don’t do a really good job of figuring out how a player projects regardless of whether some grounders find holes or gloves in a small sample, but if the draft happened in February or October you’d probably get wildly different outcomes. This brings us back to Madrigal: Madrigal’s performed consistently for years now. As a freshman in the Pac 12 he hit .333/.380/.456 and improved in each column of the triple slash line in his sophomore and junior seasons.
- Hit tool is hardest one to find. Baseball fans, and White Sox fans in particular, have seen plenty of Big Power /Bad Contact prospects fail. Joe Borchard was one of those. Courtney Hawkins a more recent vintage, just to name a few. The thinking is obvious. A guy with huge raw power is tantalizing, and if you can improve his approach and cut down the swing and miss enough you can have a superstar on your hands. Madrigal is certainly a different type of player, as his K% has fallen from 6.25 to 5.67 to 3.70 (!!) in his three years at Oregon State. The guy has crazy bat-to-ball skills. Pair that with perfectly solid walk rates and you have a guy who projects to get on base and run well, which is a really stable floor for a guy to work from. Maybe he doesn’t have a plus-plus hit tool in pro ball, but there’s every reason to think he will based on the information we have now.
- Positional value. You should always go best player available in the baseball draft. You can never have enough pitching, and pitchers tend to be the only players who can really blitz through the minors in less than a year these days, and those guys are exceedingly rare — Chris Sale, Mike Leake, or various relievers come to mind. And even the faster college bats like Kris Bryant took a year and a half to the majors. Madrigal could very well do something similar, but we don’t know what the White Sox’ needs will be in two years, let alone three or four if there are any hiccups. That said, Madrigal might be able to stick at short and projects to be a plus defender at second base. Yeah, that’s not an elite defensive catcher or Andrelton Simmons or anything, but again, it represents a higher floor than the Jake Burgers or Zack Collins picks who seem more likely than not to wind up at first.
- Bats are safer than arms. A.J. Puk was the best college arm in 2016, he just got Tommy John. He rated ahead of Cal Quantrill because Cal Quantrill was coming off Tommy John. Matt Manning is a mystery box, with inconsistent velocity readings and command. Riley Pint has yet to post an ERA below 5.00 in pro ball. Braxton Garrett is out for the year with Tommy John. Jason Groome is getting Tommy John. Ian Anderson is motoring along steadily if unremarkably, I suppose. Those are the top seven arms who were drafted in 2016. Some or all could still have good careers, but I think I’ve illustrated the point.
- He’s short. Being short can mean a lack of power. Our prospect team also ran an excellent feature on how to think about shorter players like Madrigal, particularly in light of the recent success of undersized hitters like Ozzie Albies, Jose Altuve, and Andrew Benintendi. I will limit my thoughts as follows: If it’s basically the only knock on a player and he slides as a result, there can clearly be some value to be had there. There’s a risk, I suppose, he’s Kevin Newman. That said, Newman is hitting .313/.350/.391 in Triple-A and is still likely to be a major league contributor even if he’s not going to be a star. Moreover, in the same conference, Newman slugged .421 with a .084 ISO in college compared to Madrigal’s .512 and .145 marks respectively. If Madrigal has even below average power, the rest of the profile can mean he’s a significant contributor and he slid to the White Sox are four simply because he’s 5-foot-7 instead of 5-foot-11.
In sum, I’d have been rooting for the White Sox to take Madrigal at two if they’d been selecting there, and regardless of how the pick works out I’m really pleased this is the direction they went. Now all that’s left is the little detail of seeing how his pro career turns out.
Lead Image Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports