After undergoing successful left shoulder surgery in the offseason, White Sox second baseman Nick Madrigal returned to baseball activity just after the New Year.
The former first-round pick played in 29 games during the 2020 season, missing just over half of the regular-season slate due to a shoulder injury. All White Sox fans remember the awkward head-first slide in Milwaukee that landed him on the injured list.
Aside from the bumps and bruises that hindered his rookie season, Madrigal also committed a few mental errors that drew criticism from the fanbase almost immediately. Baserunning blunders and defensive miscues by #1 resulted in a segment of the South Side faithful calling for Danny Mendick to take over as the permanent starting second baseman, but ultimately, Madrigal made his way back into the lineup.
The Oregon State product wasn’t shy about addressing his on-field mistakes. Madrigal owned up to his faults and spoke frequently about getting better in multiple aspects of his game. Now that the shoulder surgery is behind him and baseball activity is underway, eyes are on Opening Day for the California native. This date is tentatively set for April 1st, 2021 as things currently stand. But with COVID-19 hanging around, MLB may alter the season’s start date. Regardless, what can we expect from Madrigal? Will his on-field performance back up his words?
With such a small sample size of Major League action, Madrigal caught a great deal of flack. However, he never deflected criticism or made excuses. Seeing that type of level-headed approach and willingness to improve from a rookie leads me to believe that 2021 will be an excellent year for Madrigal.
A .340 batting average in 2020 reaffirmed that his impressive minor league performance could translate to the show. While fans likely won’t see an average that high in this upcoming campaign, Madrigal certainly touts an approach that will allow him to hit around .300 in the bigs.
On the defensive front, Madrigal committed four errors last season and some of those mistakes were extremely costly. This is another area in which I project a great deal of growth from Madrigal moving forward. For starters, he did win a minor league Gold Glove award in 2019. Additionally, every stadium and surface where Madrigal played during the 2020 campaign was previously foreign to him. While these players are professionals, different environments really do matter. Having a level of familiarity established should lead to cleaner defense in 2021 and beyond.
As far as Madrigal’s on-base mishaps, which were probably the most glaring knock on his game, the fix will come with time. During the 2020 campaign, the rookie was taking in the game too quickly — it seemed as if he was in a hurry on every single play. While quickness is important, rushed decisions lead to glaring mistakes. Once the game starts to slow down for Madrigal, his baserunning issues will taper off along with shortcomings in other aspects of his game.
The bottom line is that Nick Madrigal has the makeup to be one heck of a ballplayer. There’s a reason — actually, a plethora of reasons — why he was a third overall MLB Draft pick. Due to the White Sox transitioning from the rebuild to opening their competitive window in 2020, the hype surrounding Madrigal may have been a bit high for his first stint in the bigs. Letting him grow into his game at the highest level is going to yield the best results. Expecting him to be the best second baseman in the league right away just isn’t feasible.
2021 should be another exciting year for the White Sox and their young core. The franchise got a taste of playoff baseball and hopes to return to that stage again. Look for Nick Madrigal to be an important piece of the lower half of the lineup as the 2021 season progresses.