Why White Sox' Nick Madrigal is destined for successful recovery

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Why Nick Madrigal is destined for successful injury recovery originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Nick Madrigal's been down this road before.

Out for the season after tearing his hamstring, the Chicago White Sox second baseman isn't a newcomer to recovery mode.

But it means he's also no stranger to emerging from recovery mode the same player. Or an even better player.

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His White Sox teammates saw it just last season, when in one of his first games as a big leaguer, Madrigal separated his shoulder while sliding into third base. He played the rest of the shortened campaign at less than 100 percent and still managed, in his first taste of the majors, to hit .340 with a .376 on-base percentage and show the attributes that made him the team's top draft pick in 2018.

Madrigal came back this season and played an even more all-around game, posting an OPS in 54 games that was almost .030 points higher than it was in the 29 games he played in 2020.

Before he even joined the White Sox organization, his college teammates saw it at Oregon State, a significant injury keeping Madrigal off the field but not taking his mind off the game.

"In college, he had some things happen to him," Minnesota Twins outfielder Trevor Larnach, a college teammate of Madrigal's, said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago earlier this month. "And every single day he was hurt, you could see him, it was eating away at him, but at the same time, it wasn't in a bad way. It was in the way of, he's just getting hungrier and hungrier.

"You could see the fire growing in his eyes and how much hungrier and more determined he was to get back."

This not being Madrigal's first injury-related rodeo, though, is not the only thing that gives Larnach confidence that he'll be seeing his old teammate on the other side of their teams' American League Central rivalry soon.

It's Madrigal's entire approach to baseball, a personality Larnach has seen since the two were middle-school aged in Northern California.

"When we were about 14, maybe even younger, we were on the same travel-ball team," Larnach said. "There was always word of, 'Hey, this kid's pretty damn good. He's a little on the smaller end, but he plays really hard. He can hit. He can field. He's just unbelievable.'

"And I played with him that tournament, and he just did everything. He bunted, he hit, he fielded, he threw guys out, he made unbelievable plays. And this is when we were 13 or so. At that point, I kind of figured, 'This guy, no matter how old he's going to be or whatever the case, he's going to have that same chip on his shoulder and he's going to be special.' And it's been the same to this day."

Anyone who's ever talked to Madrigal can hear the presence of that chip on his shoulder, likely stemming in no small part from the fact he's long been told that someone of his stature couldn't make it. Madrigal proved anyone who ever thought that wrong by taking a quick road to the big leagues and succeeding once he arrived.

All the while, though, there have been questions about potential holes in his game.

Would a high-contact hitter be able to stick in an on-base centric world? Would someone with his style be able to carve out a spot in a major league lineup if he wasn't going to hit for a lot of power? Exit velocity, launch angle, yada, yada, yada.

When would he ever hit a home run?

Madrigal's answers to those kinds of questions always sounded rehearsed, probably because he'd been answering them since he was a teenager.

"What you see from him and what he tells you, it's what you get," Larnach said. "And he's not too concerned about what anybody says about him.

"He's been told he can't do so and so for however long he's been living. I think part of that is what gave him this chip and the work ethic, but at the same time, all that stuff makes him so good and makes him such a competitor and makes him such a good teammate.

"He's not concerned about what people think about him, or what he does and doesn't do, he's going to give you his all and he couldn't care less about any drama or anything like that. He's going to get the job done."

The job in front of Madrigal now is getting healthy, and unfortunately for him, that'll require a lot of time away from the games he loves to play in so much. He's already been ruled out for the remainder of the season, meaning he'll enter his third year as a big leaguer in 2022 with just 83 games under his belt.

Meanwhile, the White Sox might be forced to find a short-term replacement at second base. While Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal are all hoped to return before the end of the regular season, the White Sox will be without their starting second baseman until next spring, when Madrigal returns to full strength. That could send general manager Rick Hahn looking for an upgrade at the trade deadline.

But make no mistake, Madrigal will be back eventually with something to prove.

That's how he felt coming into this season, after playing many of the first 29 games of his major league career at less than 100 percent, feeling that he had so much more to show. And as was obvious for anyone who heard his 3,000-hit comments during the offseason — or saw the "Mr. 3,000" T-shirts his White Sox teammates whipped up during spring training — it's all part of a driven personality that's made him a player worth paying attention to at every place he's ever played.

When Madrigal returns to the White Sox next season, it will be no surprise to see him take charge of his career and try to reach every one of those lofty goals.

And it will be no surprise to see him take charge of the team's lofty, championship-level goals, either.

"He was our captain, and so he sort of set things straight from the beginning," Larnach said about Madrigal's time at Oregon State. "He was always looking to do the right things, to work hard. But his main thing was to win, that's all he cared about. That kind of set the bar for our team. I look up to him because of that.

"Any time we would lose a series, he would ask me or someone else, 'You guys going out tonight?' And it would be more like, if you said yes, you knew you were screwing up because you knew any time we lost and we shouldn't have, that guy was never going to do something to celebrate a loss. He was never going to go out and just have fun because of the fact that our team didn't accomplish what we needed to do.

"I think that speaks volumes to the fact that he's a leader in that sense, he's a captain of our team, at that time, and I'm sure he still wants to be that captain and leader with Chicago. When you've got a guy who's that serious and that competitive, who's willing to push others to do the right thing when a job isn't finished, I think that's super special.

"He works so hard, he believes in himself, he always has. You can see it in his game. He's always going to go out there and get after it, no matter what happens or no matter what he says or whoever says anything about him. That's just who he is, man.

"Chicago, it's special for them to have him."

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