|Courtesy OSU Website|
Oregon State University
5-8, 165 lbs
When ramping up for the draft and doing the deep dive into the draft eligible prospects, Nick Madrigal was the one I wanted to tackle first. By all accounts, he's a lock to go in the top 5 picks and a very real possibility for the Reds at 1.5.
In years gone by, Madrigal would have largely been ignored, or at least massively downgraded, because he's both short (5-8) and plays second base. Previously, second basemen were rarely drafted, as organizations would simply draft shortstops and shift those who didn't pan out over to second base in the professional ranks. As a result, prospects with Madrigal's profile wouldn't have gotten a sniff in the early rounds. Now, however, in the age of enlightenment (sort of), Madrigal is in play.
It's difficult to know which has done more to pave the way for Nick Madrigal, the explosion of data or the otherworldly ability of Jose Altuve. Data operates to provide a clear-eyed view of prospects of this profile, while the Lilliputian Altuve encourages everyone to dream and squint hard enough to see impact talent in even the shortest of prospects.
With that bit of context, let's get back to Nick Madrigal.
Madrigal's standout ability is his bat-to-ball skill. His contact rate is plus and he consistently gets the barrel of the bat on the ball. In the modern game, where strikeouts have exploded, Madrigal's contact skills are highly desirable.
In addition to his contact rate, Madrigal brings respectable power. He uses a set of swing mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the new "elevate and celebrate" swing that is sweeping the majors, which can also be seen in his "between pitch" practice swing, which is a half-swing that finishes straight up. To me, Madrigal's bat tip and leg kick during the load phase bear a striking resemblance to those of Seattle Mariner Mitch Haniger.
That said, while he may "load" like Haniger, he doesn't transfer as much force to the baseball as Haniger. Here's a look at Madrigal at the dish:
In the games that I watched Madrigal plate, he didn't look great at the plate. He wasn't making loud contact, but rather rolled over a few pitches for ground outs. In addition. he had several check-swings on breaking pitches off the plate, which might speak to him not seeing the ball well or being overly aggressive.
Here's how Madrigal has performed in his three seasons at Oregon State:
2016: .333/.380/.456/.836 with 6.7% BB% and 6.3% K%
2017: .380/.449/.532/.981 with 9.6% BB% and 5.67% K%
2018: .435/.496/.620/1.116 with 8.9% BB% and 3.25% K%
Two points worth noting about his 2018 season: First, he only has 108 ABs due to a broken left wrist he suffered while sliding into home. Second, in those 108 ABs, he has only struck out a remarkable 4 times!
Obviously, his low strikeout rate is attributable to his bat-to-ball skills, but he's also an aggressive hitter who doesn't consistently work into late-counts. That type of aggressive approach pairs nicely with his hit tool and limits strikeouts, but it also suppresses his walk rate.
On the defensive side, Madrigal has a very good defensive reputation. In the games I saw, he looked solid. He's not fluid in the Javy Baez sense, but not many are. The one aspect of his defense that caught my eye was his throws. On routine ground balls, he had a tendency to flip the ball over to first base. He ramped up the throws when turning double plays, but his arm strength wasn't overly strong, which calls into question any notion of switching him to the left side of second base in the professional ranks.
Overall, Madrigal has a very strong hit tool and a decent amount of power despite his smaller frame. However, his hit tool is his main value-driver on offense, as his aggressive approach doesn't lend itself to high walk rates, he's not a speed burner on the bases, and his power projection remains an open question.
Consequently, there is a lot of pressure on his hit tool to carry him to the majors. Fortunately, it's likely more than good enough to do just that, giving him one of the higher floors in the draft class. In the era of high strikeouts, massive velocity, and ungodly breaking stuff, a hitter with a plus hit tool is never a bad option and he's certainly in the mix for the Reds with their first round pick.