(Photo via OregonLive.com, seen here)
As much as 2017 was a season for the ages for the Oregon State Beavers, 2018 could hold even more promise. Last season’s Beavers team finished with plenty of school records to go around – the best record in program history, a Pac-12 record for conference wins and a national top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Though Oregon State’s College World Series run ended in with a semifinals loss to LSU after that school record 56 wins and the departure of three key contributors (two to last year’s MLB draft and one, Drew Rasmussen, to Tommy John surgery), the 2018 Beavers poll high in early preseason rankings and boast another considerable collection of elite talent. You can expect this iteration of Oregon State to be led by one of the best middle infield combos in the country in junior second baseman Nick Madrigal and sophomore shortstop Cadyn Greiner. It’s Madrigal, a right-handed junior infielder from Sacramento, who will almost certainly continue Oregon State’s recent tradition of aggressive, MLB-ready position players who display elite offensive skills at a competitive college level.
It’s fairly easy to connect Madrigal’s offensive numbers in his first two seasons in Corvallis to a certain American League second basemen. He’s made his case as an impressive amateur player for a while now through his pure ability to hit, posting a .333 average as a freshman and a .380/.449/.532 line last season with considerably more power. But the link to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve doesn’t stop there. Madrigal is listed on the Oregon State website at 5-foot-8, and even lists the similarly diminutive Altuve as his favorite player.
“His biggest strength as a player is his strength as a hitter,” said Oregon State assistant Andy Jenkins, who’s entering his sixth year on the staff as an assistant and infield coach, through a phone conversation. Jenkins noted Madrigal’s understanding of how pitchers attack him, high praise for his hitting IQ and excellent hand-eye coordination as explanations for his impressive two seasons at the plate in Corvallis. Another glance at Madrigal’s two-year stat line backs up that praise from his coaching staff about his unique understanding of the strike zone and his ability to make contact – two deft comparisons to Altuve.
Madrigal has struck out a grand total of 30 times in over four hundred collegiate at-bats, good for a strikeout rate of just over six percent. Still, Madrigal’s strike zone discipline isn’t perfect. Jenkins noted that the “downfall” of Madrigal’s superior hitting IQ can lead to low-quality contact. “Being so good at making contact can lead to balls in play and not taking his walks as a well as he can,” Jenkins said. “As he matures as a hitter, he won’t get so aggressive and will swing to do damage.”
Jenkins repeatedly mentioned taking walks as a way for Madrigal to improve his offensive game. He’s only taken 42 free passes at Oregon State, and Jenkins understands the Beavers’ competition knows the damage Madrigal can do at the plate, especially with the departure of K.J. Harrison from last season’s team. “The scouting report for Oregon State is ‘don’t let Madrigal beat you.’’ Jenkins said, suggesting opposing teams may pitch around Madrigal this season, necessitating a more selective approach than his career walk rate of just under nine percent.
As a potential top-10 pick and one of the best college hitters in the draft, Madrgial’s name is showing up all over the baseball industry on pre-draft scouting reports, but he’s not a bat-only prospect. Madrigal gets huge marks on his intangibles, which carry over into his IQ at the plate as Jenkins mentioned. Jim Callis at MLB Pipeline says Madrigal “…has outstanding instincts in all phases of the game,” to go along with hitting ability and speed, his top tools.
Jenkins repeatedly mentioned Madrigal’s intangibles, and how they overcome perceptions about his 5-foot-8 frame. “’Undersized’ is not a concept to guys like Altuve, Pedroia, or Nick,” he said. “Madrigal has done it for so long on high levels, it’s just undeniable that he produces when he gets on the baseball field.”
Jenkins relayed an anecdote about those instincts showing up in Madrigal’s game on the bases. In a game against Washington in 2016 (Nick’s freshman year), he went first-to-third on a hard-hit single to center field. The Washington center fielder had a plus arm, but Madrigal’s speed – he’s been clocked around four seconds from home to first – forced the Huskies’ centerfielder to rush his transfer and Madrigal ended up at third. “That’s not something we teach on a daily basis,” Jenkins said of the play.
When pre-draft scouting reports and rankings drop this spring, you can expect plenty of mention and even some questions about Madrigal’s height and how it may affect his game at the next level. The success of smaller infielders like Pedroia and Altuve, not just elite hitters, but guys who play with high intangibles and understanding of the game, should put those concerns to rest for Madrigal. “Those are guys who had stories written on their frame too,” Jenkins said about Pedroia and Altuve. Jenkins ended by highlighting how instincts affect not only Madrigal, but the entire Oregon State team. “You only dream about having players test the limits of their instincts. When instincts take over, it’s really special and valuable to the team.”