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Why didn't Nick Madrigal make the White Sox 30-man roster for Opening Day?
Well, according to the White Sox, he's not the team's best option at second base.
It might be hard for White Sox fans to agree with that. They've gotten used to plotting out the future of the franchise with the help of prospect rankings, and they haven't exactly been steered wrong yet. There's Yoán Moncada at third base, Eloy Jiménez in left field, Tim Anderson manning shortstop and Luis Robert ready for his big league debut in center field. Lucas Giolito is atop the pitching staff, with Reynaldo López and Dylan Cease behind him.
Shouldn't Madrigal be next? Especially now that the team is ready to make a leap into contention mode?
Fans also saw Madrigal bring his anti-modern, high-contact, singles-hitting style to "Summer Camp" and exhibition games over the last week. Indeed, Madrigal looked good, and he earned rave reviews from his coaches and teammates about the improvements he made since spring training. Giolito said Madrigal looked like a player who could help a White Sox team with postseason expectations from Day 1.
And yet, after the Opening Day roster was announced Thursday, general manager Rick Hahn said for all that Madrigal has done, he hasn't yet reached Leury García status.
"We really want to make this decision over what was best for the club overall, as well as consideration for Nicky's long-term development," Hahn said. "It came down to, in the end, we felt the lineup was stronger and overall we were going to be more productive with Leury at second base providing us that switch-hitting presence in the lineup. Currently, Leury seems, his timing, his readiness, seems to be a little ahead of where Nicky was over the last couple weeks.
"I know the overall numbers for the Cactus League, going back to Glendale, and the three (exhibition) games here aren't extremely impressive for Nicky, but he certainly much more looked the part over the last three weeks. To his credit, he came in ready to compete, and we still think the world of him and believe he's going to help us at some point over the summer."
Because of the now years-long focus on the future, fans can be a little biased toward the next big thing. The White Sox have been talking up Madrigal since they spent the No. 4 pick in the draft on him two summers ago. He had an extremely successful season last year in the minor leagues, striking out - and this is still unbelievable - just 17 times. He's got a great glove, good speed and a high baseball intelligence.
And he might be the organization's best second baseman.
That's nothing against García, who brings excellent versatility off the bench, an ability to play at least six different positions that is extraordinarily valuable to a team with dreams of contending. But Madrigal was a top pick for a reason. His ceiling is much higher.
And while it would be outlandish to suggest he's come anywhere close to hitting that ceiling in one and a half minor league seasons, a spring training and a "Summer Camp," it might not be so crazy to think that he's the best option for the White Sox at second base.
Hahn said back in January that Madrigal had more to show the White Sox before earning his promotion to the major leagues. And it's apparently still the case. But there will be virtually no opportunity for Madrigal to prove himself ready with no minor league games in 2020. Still, Hahn pointed to the team's belief that Madrigal will be ready at some point before the end of the 60-game 2020 campaign.
How he'll be able to make the significant leap from "not ready" to "ready" by doing nothing but playing in simulated games against other White Sox minor leaguers seems a bit of a head-scratcher. But Hahn said that even in the absence of a normal minor league season, the training site in Schuamburg will provide an opportunity for development for the team's younger players.
"The absence of games obviously changes how you evaluate readiness," Hahn said. "In the end, you want Nick to be in a good position to succeed when he gets here. Part of that is being able to play on an everyday basis and not being on the bench. Ultimately, it's going to come down to his level of consistency and what we're seeing from an evaluation standpoint in Schaumburg, as well as what opportunities present themselves in Chicago to make sure he's going to get the opportunity to play every day when the time comes.
"We're going to have the same challenges that the other clubs have, not being able to have live competition. But between sim games and the various drills and activities that (player-development director) Chris Getz and his people have lined up for Schaumburg, we do think there's going to be a real opportunity for development for those guys that are out there."
One thing you won't find in Hahn's comments is the two-word phrase on everyone's minds: service time. The White Sox have never said that service time plays a role in their decision making when it comes to when to promote top prospects. But the realities of baseball are what they are, even in this most unusual of seasons. And if Madrigal's major league debut comes roughly a week into the campaign, the White Sox will gain an extra year of team control than they would have had if he started the season on the roster.
That might not sound fair to the player - it wasn't when the Cubs did it with Kris Bryant in 2015, and it hasn't been in any of the cases that have followed - but it's undoubtedly the smartest move for the team, even if it's likely to be done away with in the next round of collective-bargaining negotiations. Should the White Sox benefit from these realities of the game, they will be able to set themselves up for even longer-term success. Assuming Madrigal becomes the kind of player the White Sox and their fans think he can be, having him on the roster for as long as possible helps the team's contention window stay open longer. Hahn, after all, has always talked up this rebuilding project as a long-term endeavor. As exciting as the idea of the White Sox making some noise in 2020 might be, far more important is the team's ability to compete for championships over the next decade.
Should Madrigal suddenly achieve readiness just a week from now, it will be interesting to hear what changed. If he's away from the majors for longer, it will be interesting to see how García does over that time span.
But Madrigal's not here now, and the White Sox will start a season of high expectations without him.
Why the White Sox say Nick Madrigal isn't a part of 2020 Opening Day roster originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago