Cubs infielder Nick Madrigal has only played second base in his big league career thus far, but he’s not likely to see a lot of time there this year. The club’s major investment this offseason was signing shortstop Dansby Swanson, thus pushing Nico Hoerner over to second base. That nudged Madrigal into a competition for time at third base this spring, one in which he seems to have held himself well.
“He’s got to hit,” manager David Ross tells Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. “He still has to perform. That goes for just about everybody. He has missed a lot of time, but he looks really good and his timing looks good. We’ll see how camp plays out, but I definitely think he’s answered questions at third base. There’s no hesitation to put him in there.”
For his part, Madrigal also feels good about how things are going. “I’m focused one day at a time,” Madrigal said. “I’m feeling really good at the plate. Defensively, I feel like it’s all coming together. My body’s in a completely different spot this year compared to last year. I’m just looking forward to what’s ahead.”
Madrigal was hitting .305/.349/.425 for the White Sox in 2021 when a significant hamstring injury ended his campaign. Nonetheless, the Cubs acquired him in the Craig Kimbrel trade at that year’s deadline. Unfortunately, injuries hampered him yet again in 2022, as he made multiple trips to the IL and hit just .249/.305/.282. As noted by Ross, Madrigal will have to hit to hold onto that third base job, but it sounds like the club is fine with him from a defensive standpoint. Should he struggle at the plate, he’ll likely be fending off challenges from players like Christopher Morel, Zach McKinstry and Miles Mastrobuoni. Patrick Wisdom could also be a factor, though he might be getting some more time in the outfield corners with Seiya Suzuki set to begin the season on the IL.
More news out of Cubs camp…
- The Cubs will also be deciding who their fifth starter is, with Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon, Drew Smyly and Justin Steele taking the first four spots. It’s viewed by many to be a race between Hayden Wesneski and Adrian Sampson, but Mooney reports that Wesneski is pulling away right now. Sampson, 31, had a nice season for the Cubs in 2022, posting a 3.11 ERA in 104 1/3 innings. However, he’s struggled badly so far this spring, giving up eight home runs in 8 1/3 innings, leading to a 14.04 ERA. Wesneski, 25, has been much better, throwing 8 2/3 scoreless frames with 11 strikeouts. Spring stats tend not to mean too much in the grand scheme of things, but it could be enough to push Wesneski ahead in this case. He also has the higher upside of the two, given he’s younger, has six remaining years of club control and is generally considered one of the club’s top prospects.
- Another decision the Cubs will have to make is whether or not to give right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. a roster spot. Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune reports that Leiter has an opt-out in his contract that would allow him to return to free agency if he’s not added by March 30, which also happens to be Opening Day. The righty has a solid season for the Cubs last year, tossing 67 2/3 innings over 35 appearances with a 3.99 ERA. However, he exhausted his final option year and had reduced roster flexibility, perhaps contributing to getting outrighted off the roster in January. He elected free agency but returned to the Cubs on a minor league deal.