White Sox: Comparing Nick Madrigal to Hall of Famer Nellie Fox

(Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
(Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

Nick Madrigal joins a White Sox franchise with a history of great of second baseman. Why it’s highly unlikely Madrigal will strikeout in his career pursuit of being the next great White Sox second baseman.

Nick Madrigal, former All-American second baseman for the Oregon State University Beavers and the White Sox first-round draft pick in the 2018 Amateur Draft, reminds me of another former Sox second baseman. Someone famous. A little guy who provided a big spark. A guy with excellent bat control and high contact rate who rarely struck out.

Any guesses? For those of you 60 years old and older, you probably know who I’m talking about. 30-59, you might know. 29 or younger? Little to no chance.

The guy I’m talking about is Nellie Fox:  1997 inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame and White Sox legend. His jersey No.2 was retired on May 1, 1976, as one of 11 White Sox players to be honored.

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Jacob Nelson Fox was one of the greatest second basemen of all-time and American League Most Valuable Player in 1959, the year the Go-Go White Sox won the AL pennant. He was the third most difficult hitter to strike out in major league history. Think about that. The old days of higher mounds, junk pitchers, dirty balls and dirty tricks did nothing to affect Nellie.

The most Fox ever struck out in a season was 1953, when in 692 plate appearances and 624 at-bats he whiffed 18 times. EIGHTEEN! The same year he had 178 hits and walked 49 times, so he reached first base safely through a hit or base on balls 227 times against those 18 strikeouts.

To show this wasn’t just a one-off occurrence, Fox put up an unbelievable 15 consecutive seasons of at least 440 at-bats with 18 or fewer strikeouts. He finished an 18-year career with 2,663 hits, hitting .300 six times and being named an All-Star 15 times. Humorist Jean Shepherd would talk glowingly about Fox and his ability to control the ball with the bat, especially his keen ability to bunt the ball to wherever he wanted on the infield grass.

Fox meet Madrigal. In this ultra-modern era (after 2000 – I just made that up), Madrigal had an auspicious debut in professional baseball displaying a similar talent to Fox. In 173 plate appearances and 155 at-bats between Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem and through the Arizona Fall League, Madrigal struck out a whopping – wait for it – five times. FIVE! His first professional strikeout occurred in his 86th plate appearance and 76th at-bat.

For a rookie seeing professional pitching for the first time to go 75 at-bats without a strikeout is unbelievable. Could Madrigal be the spark plug for a future White Sox contending team?

Finding time to write for Southside Showdown while holding down a full-time job at a Fortune 500 corporation ain’t easy. I typically write my posts while on planes since I travel a lot. Writing this very article, a woman sitting in seat 6D next to me noticed my post title and struck up a conversation. Turns out her son played college ball with Madrigal at Oregon State for two years in 2016 and 2017. She saw every game during those two years and knew his game pretty well (as well as his parents).

I asked her if he was as good as the White Sox thought in making him the fourth overall pick and responded, “Oh yes,” and added he was a really good guy as well and likely would play well in the clubhouse as on the field. One item she mentioned I found fascinating was that when she saw him play at shortstop, she and her husband commented his throws to first base had a looping effect as though they had been lobbed. She thought his defensive game was far better suited toward making shorter infield throws, which if true means he’s the Sox second sacker of the future.

That would also mean Yoan Moncada will likely be shifted to a different position for the Sox or playing second base with a different team. Even though 217 strikeouts in a season will create lots of doubt no matter how a prospect was acquired, it’s highly unlikely Moncada would be traded at this stage due to how the return for Chris Sale would be judged. If Moncada does change positions, which seems likely, he’ll be aggressively working on his game both offensively and defensively.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young player. But with another young player on the team who simply hardly ever strikes out, that means they’ll no doubt have that high-contact bat in the lineup when it’s his time. There’s a collision course between Moncada and Madrigal if they both stay at second.

The team could move Moncada to third base and Yolmer Sanchez back to second base without impacting the batting order or promoting Madrigal prematurely. If so, when? They had to consider this before Madrigal was drafted. The only reason for creating a logjam at any position would be that you have a plan that there won’t be one.  So what’s that plan?

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In the same season that shortstop Tim Anderson delivered his first 20-20 year of home runs and stolen bases, one wonders if the Anderson-Madrigal tandem might turn out to be a similar great White Sox middle infield combination as Fox and Luis Aparicio were. And with Moncada and Jose Abreu at the corners, the Sox infield of the future looks much more like a hit than a whiff.