How insight from a Hall of Famer helped Madrigal adjust to 3B

March 3rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MESA, Ariz. -- Nick Madrigal has sought insight about playing third base from as many sources as possible as he learns the position. After one recent spring game, he even stopped by manager David Ross’ office to ask if there was anything he could have done on a ball that got by him and into left field.

“It wasn't even close to him,” Ross said with a laugh. “But he's still learning what he can and can't get to. That just tells me he wants to get it all.”

After the Cubs signed shortstop Dansby Swanson this offseason -- an addition that pushed Nico Hoerner to second base -- Madrigal’s place on the roster became less clear. The Cubs asked him about trying his hand at third to add more versatility to his skill set. Madrigal accepted the challenge and began diving into the nuances of the hot corner with bench coach and infielder instructor Andy Green.

Then, after eight-time Gold Glove Award winner Scott Rolen was elected to the Hall of Fame in January, the defensive great did a segment on MLB Network about how he approached third base. The video of Rolen breaking down his pre-pitch routine made its way to Madrigal, who picked up a crucial piece of advice.

Rolen explained that middle infielders tend to follow the ball all the way from a pitcher’s hand to home plate with each pitch. Rolen said a third baseman does not have the time to do that same kind of tracking.

“I can't follow that baseball into the hitting zone. It's too fast,” Rolen said in the segment. “I'm moving my focus on the pitcher's break to the front of the hitting zone. And at this point, everything is reaction.”

That was a kind of lightbulb moment for Madrigal, who has spent his career as a second baseman. The next time he had the chance to play third with a batter in the box, he took Rolen’s advice. Madrigal immediately noticed a difference.

“It’s something that's helped me a ton,” Madrigal said. “You don't really think of those things, being new to a position. It sounds like it's something small, but initially, right when I did that, it made it feel way more comfortable. I would say that's the biggest thing, is just getting my vision on the batter, rather than tracking it like I do at second base.”

The Cubs have a handful of other players to consider at third base -- Patrick Wisdom, Edwin Ríos, Christopher Morel and Zach McKinstry among them -- but Madrigal is at least giving the team something to consider as it plots out its Opening Day roster. So far, Madrigal has looked capable at the position, showing plenty of range and ample arm strength.

“He's looked phenomenal out there,” Ross said. “When you see these guys look so clean and good early in Spring Training, it just is a real good representation of how they worked in the offseason and are coming in here prepared to win jobs and to help us win. And that's really rewarding, sitting in my seat.”