Sunday Notes: Nick Madrigal Doesn’t Try To Hit Home Runs Anymore

There’s no question that Nick Madrigal can hit. The Chicago White Sox drafted the sweet-swinging infielder fourth-overall in 2018 after he slashed .361/.422/.502 at Oregon State University — and he’s continued to rake. Last year, Madrigal put up a tasty .311/.377/.414 slash line between three levels, reaching Triple-A in his first full professional season.

Few doubt that the just-turned-23-year-old will be a solid big-leaguer, as his bat-to-ball skills come with strong defense at the second base position. The question is whether he’ll ever produce more than a modicum of in-game power. Madrigal stands 5’ 7”, and he’s gone deep just four times in 705 minor-league plate appearances.

Could he one day display pop? Mindful that 5’ 6” Jose Altuve homered 31 times last year, I asked Madrigal how much raw power he actually has.

“I have some in my swing,” Madrigal told me on Friday. “I’m getting stronger and stronger every year, so I do think power could be part of my game. I’m not too worried about it, though. People say, ‘When will you start doing that?’ or ‘When will you start doing this?’ But I know what kind of player I am. My job is to get on base. I can drive the ball, but I’m not going to go up there trying to hit home runs, or anything like that.”

Once upon a time, he did go for the downs.

“When I was younger, I would try to hit home runs,” the former Elk Grove, California prep admitted. “I would try to be that player. I’d get too big, trying do too much at the plate, and that led to inconsistency. Once I started staying within myself, and focusing on hitting the ball more on a line, is when I started to get more hits, get on base more. I actually started driving the ball better, too.”

Madrigal has a mechanical change in his background, as well. He lowered his hands when he got to Oregon State, and the result was “shorter moves to the ball” and harder contact to the opposite field. When his hands were higher, Madrigal tended to flare the ball when going to right field.

His lower half has remained static (but isn’t still).

“I’ve always had the high leg kick,” Madrigal said. “I’ve always had the same rhythm and timing — the way I load, and things like that. Honestly, my lower half hasn’t changed much at all. I still have pictures of myself when I was younger, and it’s the same high kick.”

But obviously not a Josh-Donaldson-built-for-launching high kick. Madrigal’s bat path is fairly flat, and he typically tries to stay inside the baseball. And again, while there’s more untapped power in his profile than many might think, chasing taters isn’t part of his M.O.

“I don’t think about launch angle,” Madrigal told me. ”A lot of people are doing that, but I don’t do that at all. In today’s game, everyone thinks every player should have the home-run swing, but I’m a line drive hitter who likes to stay in the middle of the field. I’ve worked extremely hard trying to perfect what kind of hitter I am, and like I said, my job is to get on base.”

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Jose Garcia has been standing on his head this spring. Not literally (as least not to my knowledge), but based on what I heard in Reds camp this week, the 21-year-old shortstop has been making quite the impression. Probably not enough to start the season in Cincinnati — Garcia finished last year in high-A Dayton — but executives and coaches alike were singing his praises.

Garcia isn’t a household name in most prospect circles, but his ceiling is high enough that he’s ranked 82nd on our 2020 Top 100 Prospects list. His background contributes to the relative obscurity. As Eric Longenhagen wrote in the La Habana, Cuba native’s scouting summary, “If Garcia’s tools were installed in a 21-year-old college shortstop, he’d be very famous.”

I took the opportunity to talk to Garcia on Thursday — thanks to Reds media relations assistant Jorge Merlos for translation assistance — and found the youngster to be both humble and pious.

“First of all, it’s definitely Jesus Christ,” Garcia told me when I asked where he learned to hit. “He helped me become a baseball player and gave me that talent. But when I was little, it was really my dad. He gave me all the fundamentals, all the instruments to get me to where I am. And now it’s my brother who helps me out a lot with my training.”

Garcia’s father played professionally in Cuba, for Industriales. His brother, Ryde Rodriguez, played professionally in the St. Louis Cardinals system from 2008-2011, then spent several seasons in independent ball.

Garcia told me that he hasn’t changed all that much as a hitter since coming from Cuba. He did allow that he worked with his brother over the offseason, the primary focus being to “stay back a little bit, and how to open my arms so that I can have better depth at the plate.”

Last year, the up-and-coming youngster slashed .280/.343/.436 with Dayton. This spring, he is 6 for 18 with a double and three home runs, which has a lot to do with buzz he’s created in camp. And again, he’s both humble and pious. Those characteristics returned to the fore when I asked which players he most enjoys watching.

Albert Pujols and Javier Baez,” Garcia told me. “Baez, especially. He gives me inspiration to play even better, because he plays with energy, and I always try to have a positive attitude. But Jesus Christ is the one leading me to victory. I’ve always had that dream of becoming a Major League player, and He’s helping me always put my best into it.”

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RANDOM HTTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Craig Counsell went 7 for 8 against Chuck McElroy.

Joe Girardi went 8 for 12 against Mike Maddux.

Rocco Baldelli went 9 for 16 against Jeff Weaver.

Dusty Baker went 9 for 15 against Dock Ellis.

Dave Roberts went 9 for 14 against Jeff Suppan.

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One of the questions Dave Roberts fielded in this past Friday’s media scrum addressed the increasing number of young, analytically-minded coaches in the game. Following his response, I asked if there’s a flip side to the trend. Does he sense that some older coaches now being looked at in a lesser light?

“Yeah, I do,” the Dodgers manager said after a thoughtful pause. “I think that sometimes experience seems to be a detriment — which it shouldn’t be. There are a lot of people who have put a lot into this game, and have a lot of knowledge, and are open-minded. Sometimes when you have experience you’re put in the bucket of being closed-minded and stubborn. That’s very unfair. I think there are just as many people without experience who are closed-minded and stubborn.”

Roberts added that the players the Dodgers organization are immune from any such age-bias issues. He name-checked Rick Honeycutt, Don Alexander, and Charlie Hough as older, experienced coaches whom players appreciate listening to and learning from.

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Count Craig Counsell among those not entirely enamored with some of this year’s rule changes. Queried on the subject, the Milwaukee Brewers manager said yesterday that the three-batter minimum, and adding a position player, aren’t what they’re made out to be. In his mind, “They’re offensive rules, and they’re telling us they’re pace-of-game rules. They’re not pace-of-game rules. They’re offensive-enhancement rules… I don’t think we’re going to address pace-of-game with this stuff that we’ve done.”

I asked if him the new two-way-player rule makes sense.

“It makes very little sense,” responded Counsell. “It’s almost impossible for a National League team to have a two-way player. The rule is written unfairly. In the American League, with the DH, it’s so much easier for you to have a two-way player.”

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Anthony Gose has been one of the more intriguing stories in Indians camp. Frankly, he’s one of the more intriguing stories in anyone’s camp. The 29-year-old left-hander is not only a converted outfielder, his stuff, per Chris Antonetti, is “obviously electric.” Cleveland’s president of baseball operations added that Gose has become more consistent with repeating his delivery and is throwing more strikes. “If he can marry those two — maintain the stuff, and be in the zone — [he’s] a pretty interesting arm to have as an option in the bullpen.”

Gose held left-handed hitters to an .094 batting average last year, but the LOOGY is now a thing of the past. I asked Antonetti if the new three-batter-minimum might adversely impact the flamethrower’s chances.

“Not with his stuff,” answered Antonetti. “I think he may have touched 100 [mph] this spring, and his secondary stuff has been really good. If he can stay in the zone, we think he can attack both lefties and righties.”

Gose was a mixed bag on the mound last year between high-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron. He fanned 35, but walked 29, in 32 relief outings encompassing 29 innings. Despite his strike-zone issues, he logged a 2.48 ERA.

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NEWS ITEMS

The New York Mets announced that they will be retiring Jerry Koosman’s No. 36 this summer. The Mets have previously retired the numbers of Mike Piazza, Tom Seaver, Casey Stengel, and Gil Hodges.

Brian McLaughlin has been hired as the No. 2 broadcaster for the Midwest League’s Lake County Captains, the low-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. McLaughlin, who is scheduled to graduate from Penn State University in May, called games in the Cape Cod League last summer.

The Triple-A Syracuse Mets have added Evan Stockton to their broadcast team. The graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications did play-by-play for the Midwest League’s Fort Wayne TinCaps last year.

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Craig Kimbrel made his first Cactus League appearance this past Wednesday. Afterwards, I asked the Chicago Cubs closer if he ever feels adrenaline in spring training games.

“Not like a [regular] season game, no,” responded Kimbrel. “But you’re still excited to get out there, excited to work. It may be spring training, but you still don’t want to give up runs, you don’t want to give up hits. You still try to compete. It’s part of the reason I wait so long to get into games. I don’t want to go out there and try to do too much before I’m ready.”

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Norman L. Macht’s They Played the Game is a compilation of 47 interviews with former MLB players. Conducted over a wide range of years, they include a 1991 conversation with erstwhile submariner Elden Auker. Here is a short excerpt, with Auker addressing Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin, a teammate on the 1934 Detroit Tigers:

[Al] Simmons had an air about him like he was above the rest of us. But Goose was a good guy, always trying to help the younger guys. Everybody loved him. A bachelor, he won the title of ugliest guy on the club. Only one I ever saw who smoked a cigar in the shower. He liked to come over to the apartment after a game and eat onion sandwiches and drink Stroh’s beer and play bridge.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The New York Times, Tyler Kepner wrote about how a baseball radical named Kyle Boddy infiltrated the Cincinnati Reds.

At The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Derrick Goold wrote about how Jack Flaherty is set to push the Cardinals’ salary formula to new heights.

Which players have impressed the most in Milwaukee Brewers camp this spring? Adam McCalvy polled over two dozen players, and shared the results at MLB.com.

New York Yankees scout Kelly Rodman died earlier this week at the age of 44 following a battle with cancer. An award is being dedicated in her name, and Bryan Hoch has the story at MLB.com.

Over at The Athletic, Rob Biertempfel wrote about how the Pittsburgh Pirates are mulling contract extensions while at the same time dealing with an MLBPA grievance tied to their low-spending ways.

In-house at the FanGraphs Community Research blog, Jacob Foster delved into what makes a curveball effective.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

David Ross is the 55th manager in Chicago Cubs history.

Chase Utley finished his career with a .358 OBP, 1,103 runs scored, and 1,025 RBIs. Nick Markakis has a .358 OBP, 1,104 runs scored, and 1,031 RBIs.

Detroit Tigers batters slashed .240/.294/.388 last season. The 1968 World Series-winning Tigers slashed .235/.307/.385.

Ty Cobb was the second-most-productive hitter in the Detroit Tigers lineup in 1921 when he slashed .389/.452/.596 with a 164 wRC+. Fellow Hall of Famer Harry Heilmann slashed .394/.444/.606 with a 165 wRC+. It was Heilmann’s second-best season. In 1923, he slashed .403/.481/.632 with a 189 wRC+.

Mike Trout had a 180 wRC+ last year. He had a 190 wRC+ in 2018.

Lew Drill and Rabbit Nill both played for the 1904 Washington Senators. Ditto Boileryard Clarke, Happy Townsend, and Highball Wilson.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Nick Madrigal Doesn’t Try To Hit Home Runs Anymore by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Fredchuckdave
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Good to hear from Madrigal, thanks