Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal has aced the elements of the pre-Draft examination that he can control.He was the Pac-10's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. He broke his hand early in this junior season, only to recover and hit, as of
Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal has aced the elements of the pre-Draft examination that he can control.
He was the Pac-10's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. He broke his hand early in this junior season, only to recover and hit, as of this writing, .435 with a .620 slugging percentage. Teammates laud him as a leader. His coach unabashedly insists Madrigal could go straight from the Beavers to the big leagues. In contact, speed and defensive ability, in instincts and energy and collegiate accomplishment, he checks off pretty much all the boxes you'd want completed by a prominent pick.
• 2018 Draft order | 2018 Draft: June 4-6 | All-time Draft picks
But it's the one part of his pre-Draft profile Madrigal can't control -- his height -- that makes him especially interesting in a game evolving from some, shall we say, heightist habits of old.
Madrigal, 21, is officially listed by Oregon State as 5-foot-8. Some pre-Draft profiles have even pegged him at 5-foot-7, which, if we know anything about the exaggeration of official height listings for vertically challenged ballplayers, is probably closer to the reality.
:: 2018 Draft coverage ::
Search Baseball Reference's records dating back to 1965, the dawn of the June amateur Draft, and you'll find 272 first-rounders drafted as a middle infielder. The only one of them officially listed at 5-foot-8 or shorter is the 5-foot-7 Joey Cora, who was taken 23rd overall by the Padres in 1995.
So for a compact second-sacker like Madrigal to be considered not just a first-rounder but a potential top-five pick on June 4 (MLB Pipeline currently has him listed as the No. 3 overall Draft prospect) says something about what the game's evaluators have learned from the likes of Dustin Pedroia (generously listed at 5-foot-9), Jose Altuve (5-foot-6) and, most recently, Ozzie Albies (5-foot-8).
"It started with Pedroia," an American League executive who preferred to speak anonymously said. "Now you see size isn't everything that matters in baseball."
Back in 2004, 64 picks passed before the Red Sox snagged Pedroia, the Arizona State product who had won them over with his lack of swing-and-miss, his filthy uniform and his weirdly charming cockiness. Again, Pedroia is officially listed at 5-foot-9, so he wouldn't have been a total outlier as a first-rounder. But how many clubs wound up kicking themselves for passing up their ticket to the "Laser Show" strictly because of his size? It was the biggest concern attached to Pedroia in the lead-up to that Draft.
Size was also the stigma attached to Altuve a year earlier, when he was shooed away from the Astros' academy in his native Venezuela. The truth, which now reads like legend, is that Altuve's perseverance eventually earned him a foot in the door and his talent earned him a $15,000 signing bonus and a chance. He took it from there, winning the AL MVP Award last season.
And now we can add Albies, who signed with the Braves out of Curacao for a relatively meager $350,000 bonus in 2013, to the increasingly long list of short superstars at second base. His early production, which included a franchise-record 22 extra-base hits before the end of April, has been elemental in Atlanta's rise to prominence in the National League East this season.
These are the significant-but-scalable backs upon which Madrigal, who lists Altuve as his favorite player in his Oregon State bio, can climb to a top-five selection in the Draft.
"His height won't be held against him," one NL scouting director said of Madrigal, "because he has so many other intangibles."
Added Pat Casey, Madrigal's coach at Oregon State: "I think people are recognizing that winners and big leaguers come in various sizes and fashions. This guy is going to be a big league player and a big league winner. He can do things in baseball, instinctively, that a lot of guys can't even dream of."
The Indians made Madrigal the 514th overall pick (17th round) out of Elk Grove (Calif.) High School in 2015. But with Madrigal's signing demands north of $1 million, the club didn't have the pool money to get a deal done with him. He honored his commitment to Oregon State, where Casey said he's sharpened his plate-zone discipline. Madrigal has struck out just four times in 108 at-bats this season.
"Sometimes when you get high, high-ceiling guys or high-profile guys, you have to motivate them or look after them," Casey said. "Not this guy. Zero maintenance. Great human being, good student. He'll be in the big leagues in one and a half or two years. I get it, you've got to develop. But put him in a big league uniform, and he can play."
• Latest mock has Madrigal going to Reds at No. 5
Madrigal, who could possibly be given the chance to play shortstop as a pro, could be similar to fellow Oregon State product Michael Conforto if his rise to the bigs is as quick as his coach prescribes. But obviously the most apt comparisons are the ones to players light on height. Whereas evaluators once had more genuine concern about the long-term batted-ball profile of such players, the prominent extra-base production we've seen in recent seasons from players like Altuve, Albies, Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez changes the conversation and the evaluation.
"Some of your harder exit velocities are from guys with a shorter stature," the AL exec said. "Some of those guys are able to create a lot of leverage and bat speed with shorter strokes."
Evaluators believe Madrigal's bat-to-ball skills and strike-zone judgment could allow him to produce more power as a pro. But for now, a profile built on contact and confidence have Madrigal standing tall on Draft boards in an industry that has learned short players can go a long way.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.