SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.. — Nick Madrigal brings a different baseball package to the table than most. He’s a high average, high contact, low walk and low-power hitter with speed.
A guy manager Tony La Russa can use and win with.
“The home run is a wonderful weapon. A three-run homer is beautiful,” La Russa said Saturday. “They usually happen against pitchers that are average to below average and against better pitchers, it’s tougher.
“There’s a lot of games you play against good pitching, good relief pitching and it’s like Joe Torre used to say, you do little things and they add up to big things and Nick is a guy who — especially when he gets the ball to right field — he can advance a guy from first to third, he can handle an at-bat in any situation.”
Just put the ball in play. It has its value, to be sure.
Madrigal’s .340 average over his 29-game debut last season was the highest by a Sox rookie since 1940. With two strikes, he batted .321, earning a “Nicky Two Strikes” nickname from broadcaster Jason Benetti, so putting the ball in play is his go-to.
But Madrigal walked only four times while striking out only seven times. And his extra-base hit collection consisted of three doubles.
He says there’s more there.
“I have a different style but I know it was only 20 or 30 games, and I’m a lot more capable of a lot more,” Madrigal told the Sun-Times. “And the way I play fits perfectly with the style of Tony La Russa’s coaching.”
When reports swirled that La Russa was a candidate to be the replacement for Rick Renteria, Madrigal was all in.
“I was excited when we hired him, because he’s more old school and likes to do a lot of different things and I feel I can fit that for him in the lineup,” Madrigal said. “I’m excited to play for him and I understand [my game is] a little different than the average player in the major leagues nowadays, but I just focus on playing the best I can and not comparing myself to other players.”
A family friend, two-time Gold Glove infielder Fernando Vina, played for La Russa and stoked Madrigal’s interest in playing for the 76-year-old manager.
“A Hall of Famer, I watched him manage the Cardinals teams and all those great teams,” Madrigal said.
“We always talk baseball. He’s a full-on baseball mind and I’m always thinking about the game, the little things, and even off the field we’re talking about game situations from the previous games.”
Madrigal, slow-rolled his start to camp this spring after coming off shoulder surgery, the result of a slide into third base last September. He also missed time with soreness in his right hand but says he’s near 100 percent now.
“Not feeling any pain or soreness lately, staying on top of that with exercises and maintaining,” he said.
Last season gave him a foundation, albeit a small one, to build from.
“A lot of things to take away from it,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of major league baseball on TV but it’s another thing to be in the moment, be in those big stadiums, playing with guys you’ve watched growing up, the biggest thing is seeing the speed of the game, learning different pitchers and relievers and what it’s like at that level. I got to see first hand how fast the game is at the major league hitters.”
And that little guy’s mentality? For the 5-8 Madrigal, that’s an old story.
“That’s not even on my mind,” he said. “My height is not a motivating factor. I can’t tell you the last time I thought of myself as being an underdog because I’m smaller than a lot of guys. I don’t care about that — if anything I’m more of a favorite out there.”