How Nick Madrigal fits into the Cubs’ long-term plans
Since the start of the 2020 season, no player in Major League Baseball makes contact more often than Nick Madrigal.
The 24-year-old sports a 92% contact rate, tops in the big leagues among players with at least 100 plate appearances in that time frame.
That extreme skillset is enticing and one of the main reasons the Cubs acquired Madrigal from the White Sox in the Craig Kimbrel trade last week.
“When you talk contact, he’s a whole other level,” Nico Hoerner said. “There’s no one that puts the bat on the ball as well as him.”
When the Cubs’ offense was clicking as a unit in May, a big reason was the high-contact bats like Hoerner and Matt Duffy making their presence known throughout the lineup.
Now the Cubs are envisioning that level of contact becoming the new normal as the organization moves into its next phase — where Hoerner and Madrigal are a central part of the lineup.
“To get a player like Madrigal, he just fits what we’re trying to do going forward really well,” Jed Hoyer said after the trade deadline. “I love how he plays the game. I was envious of the White Sox to get a player like that [out of college]. He fit so well with their boppers in the middle of the lineup. We were excited to be able to do that.”
Sure, all GMs and team presidents are excited about the players they acquire in a trade — they wouldn’t make the move if they weren’t convicted in the players they were adding.
But that quote from Hoyer is telling. The Cubs clearly want contact to be a bigger part of their game moving forward and they just went out and acquired the league leader in that category and will build around Madrigal and Hoerner heading into 2022.
“The contact stuff is evident when you’ve got two guys like that that really don’t strike out and move the baseball,” David Ross said. “You surround those type of guys with some real thunder in their bat, the way that [Patrick] Wisdom’s playing and we’ve got some guys that can really touch the baseball and do some damage.
“You get guys like that on base and not strike out, it makes it hard on the other team. I go back to my catching days and how tough it is when you’re a catcher and you can’t get that guy to strike out, to swing and miss. Those are pesky at-bats and those two guys have proven their eye-hand, bat-to-ball skills are really impressive.”
Madrigal won’t play in 2021 as he recovers from a hamstring tear but the Cubs are penciling him in the lineup at second base for the next half-decade (he is under team control through 2026).
Hoerner is also currently on the IL with an oblique injury. He was doing some light baseball activity in Colorado earlier in the week but he’s still going to be on the shelf for some time.
Heading into next season, Hoerner’s position isn’t set in stone. He was a Gold Glove finalist at second base last year but he’ll cede that spot to Madrigal in 2022. Long term, Hoerner can slide over to shortstop or play center field or third base. Or he could fill a Kris Bryant type of role and move around the diamond based on each day’s lineup.
Hoerner said he hasn’t had those conversations just yet with Hoyer, Ross and the Cubs brass. But he is willing to move wherever the team needs him to make room for his former travel ball teammate.
Hoerner and Madrigal have played together or against each other for most of their lives growing up in California — Madrigal in the Sacramento area and Hoerner in Oakland. They played USA baseball as teenagers, traveling to Venezuela and the Dominican Republic at age 14 and 15.
“What’s cool about him is the way I picture him playing when we were kids is pretty much the same now,” Hoerner said. “He’s really stuck to his strengths and his game and someone that’s always been incredibly confident about what he does.
“Playing the game hard, playing fast, making contact, winning. He’s always won — everywhere he’s been. A lot of respect for that, for sure.”
The will to win followed Madrigal to college, too.
Minnesota Twins outfielder Trevor Larnach played at Oregon State with Madrigal and had a similar description of the Cubs’ new second baseman.
“He was our captain,” Larnach told NBC Sports Chicago’s Vinnie Duber last month. “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.”
Madrigal was the 4th overall pick in 2018 and has impressed in a short time in the big leagues. He has a .317 batting average and .764 OPS in 83 games with only 24 strikeouts across 324 plate appearances.
“[He’s] someone who does a lot of the things you can’t measure well in baseball,” Hoerner said. “He understands the ins and outs of baseball so well and he’s kind of always been a captain on the field — just the way he moves around and talks to people.
“That’s an infectious thing to have, especially when you talk about creating culture with a different group of people. That’s the kind of person you want around.”