Moving to 3rd, Madrigal looks to prove worth

February 14th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- arrived at the Cubs’ Spring Training complex on Tuesday morning and donned his new blue workout gear for some sprints on the agility field. Chicago's new shortstop then spent time chatting with Nico Hoerner, and bench coach Andy Green.

Swanson's arrival -- via the seven-year, $177 million contract that made him the new face of the North Siders -- had an immediate ripple effect for the infield. With Swanson taking over at shortstop, Hoerner willingly moved to second base and, in turn, 's fit on the roster shifted into a positional gray area.

"We're all here to win," Madrigal said on Tuesday. "I'm not looking at anything personally -- where I want to play, where I'm going to be. I don't know what the lineup card is going to look like in a couple months. I'm looking forward to just whatever they throw at me. I feel like I can help this team in a lot of ways."

To that end, Madrigal took his place at third base following his round of batting practice on Field 1 during Tuesday's informal workout. He and took turns gloving grounders and firing throws across the diamond. As spring shifts into full swing, will also be an option at third.

The 25-year-old Madrigal is trying to focus on the fact that he is feeling better physically entering Spring Training compared to a year ago. Last spring, Madrigal was still working his way back from surgery on his right hamstring in 2021. He tried to play through a minor setback in the preseason, and then had back and groin issues limit him to 59 games in ‘22.

Madrigal said he trained in Arizona over the offseason, focusing on his lower-body strength for multiple weeks before building in agility work and lateral movement drills. He resumed weight training earlier than previous winters as well.

"I've never done this much agility work in all of my baseball offseasons," Madrigal said. "I mean, I'm moving better than I ever have. And my body is so much more flexible right now. I just feel like I'm in a great spot overall."

As Madrigal trained, he knew the Cubs were targeting one of the big-ticket free-agent shortstops. When the Cubs were in the process of reeling in Swanson, Madrigal said manager David Ross reached out to have a conversation about the situation.

"I got a call from Rossy, just kind of giving me a head's up of what it might look like," Madrigal said. "He was saying, 'We don't know what the lineup's going to look like, but just be ready. … Get some different gloves in your bag and just be ready for anything.' And I appreciated that a lot."

Madrigal noted that Green, who doubles as Chicago's infield instructor, met him in Arizona for a week to discuss some differences of playing third base. Green also sent videos of a few third basemen to Madrigal, who has played second base nearly exclusively in his career. 

"I honestly haven't played too much third base in my life. Not even high school," Madrigal said. "But so far, I've worked extremely hard to try to get ready for it."

Last season, Madrigal slashed .249/.305/.282 amid the injury setbacks. Under the statistical hood, though, he still ranked third in contact rate (90.9 percent) and swinging-strike rate (four percent), and fourth in contact rate in the zone (95.6 percent) among Major Leaguers with at least 200 plate appearances.

During his 2020-21 seasons with the White Sox, those elite bat-to-ball skills helped Madrigal hit .317 with a .358 on-base percentage and a 109 OPS+ in 83 games. That was one reason the Cubs acquired Madrigal from the South Siders as part of the Craig Kimbrel deal at the '21 Trade Deadline.

Madrigal understands that this spring -- one in which Swanson and Hoerner will garner much of the spotlight -- it will be important to show the Cubs there is still a place for him in the Opening Day picture.

"I've never really been nervous about other guys at different positions," Madrigal said. "I would rather be on a winning team with the best players than be at the bottom of a division really grinding out the season. I feel like the front office and just everyone in the Cubs organization understands [that] we need to get back to winning baseball. They made a ton of moves and everyone's just excited."