Nick Madrigal has become the Cubs’ answer at third base
One of the main questions entering this Cubs season was figuring out what to make of the third base picture.
There were a host of names in competition at the position, including Patrick Wisdom, Nick Madrigal, Christopher Morel, Zach McKinstry, Miles Mastrobuoni and Edwin Ríos.
The Cubs are now in crunch time amid a playoff push and one name has emerged among that group as the primary third baseman: Nick Madrigal.
Ríos is in the minors, McKinstry was traded to Detroit, Morel is the Cubs’ primary designated hitter, Mastrobuoni has been relegated to a bench role and Wisdom starts at first base or DH against lefties.
Even with Jeimer Candelario in the mix, Madrigal has still been the guy David Ross goes to most often at third base with 15 starts in the last 22 games at the hot corner.
Now Candelario is on the IL with a back injury and it looks like Madrigal will get even more playing time.
And a huge reason for it has been his defense.
Madrigal had never played third base at any level of the pros or even in college. Yet he entered play Tuesday tied for 3rd in baseball with 11 outs above average.
The player he’s tied with? Two-time Gold Glover Manny Machado.
“Madrigal’s been great at third for us,” said Dansby Swanson, the reigning NL Gold Glove winner at shortstop.
Madrigal has been credited with 7 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) by FanGraphs’ metric and he ranks in the 95th percentile in all of baseball in range by StatCast.
“I’m at the point — there’s no more question marks for me for him at third base,” Ross said in late-August. “He’s a good third baseman. I think he’s proven that this year.
“He’s put in a lot of work to get that way but he’s very, very valuable at third and done a really nice job. He’s been great. Really good third baseman.”
With the signing of Swanson, Madrigal knew he was going to be shifted to third base as Nico Hoerner manned second base full time.
At the outset of Spring Training, it was Cubs bench coach Andy Green that gave Madrigal the confidence he needed when learning a new position.
Green works with the Cubs infielders throughout the season.
“He’s been huge preparing me for in the game,” Madrigal said. “He was one of the first that told me early in Spring Training that I could do it and he believed in me. That went a long way just to hear somebody believe in me. A lot of credit to him.”
Madrigal acknowledged he is still a “work in progress” at third base but he feels more comfortable and confident with each game he gets under his belt.
One of the keys to his performance at third base has been improved health. Madrigal missed the second half of the 2021 campaign with a hamstring tear that required surgery and was subsequently hampered by other lower body issues all of last year.
This season, he came into the year healthy and credits that as a “huge” aspect of his defensive emergence.
This is a Cubs team that is predicated on pitching and defense. And with less than three weeks remaining in a hotly contested playoff chase, every little edge looms large.
With the season on the line, Ross has been turning to his best defensive lineup as often as possible. That now includes Madrigal at third base.
“He’s playing unbelievable there at third,” Kyle Hendricks said. “The slow rollers, he’s making some unbelievable plays going back on balls, strong arm. He’s made some incredible plays over there. Really established himself as a consistent force.
“Everybody out there, they’re all unbelievable at what they’ve been doing defensively this year. It helps us just being aggressive, pitching to contact, keeping the pitch count down. It does a lot of good things for us.”