Players to watch as White Sox open spring slate

February 23rd, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cactus League action got underway for the White Sox on Sunday in Goodyear after Saturday’s scheduled opener was rained out. So, let’s take a look at a few interesting individuals to watch over the next month in Arizona.

Forcing the Issue

The South Siders' top pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline is going to be the team’s starting second baseman, barring something completely unexpected. There’s just no certainty whether Madrigal’s run will begin on Opening Day or some time in late April or early May. While Madrigal is not expected to break camp with the team, he also has not been ruled out from going to Chicago at the outset.

Madrigal, who turns 23 on March 5, spent the offseason working out at EXOS in Phoenix with big leaguers such as Edwin Jackson, Billy Hamilton, Shelby Miller and even Aaron Judge for a couple of weeks.

“We had a good group. There was guys coming in and out, big leaguers,” Madrigal said. “They shared things like during the season what you do. We definitely bounced some things off each other on a daily basis.”

With only 21 strikeouts and a .311 average over 628 Minor League at-bats, Madrigal’s high-level contact skills have been frequently talked about. The same is true for his four home runs during that time, but the questions about his power don’t bother Madrigal.

“I’ve always been confident in my style of play, and my job is to get on base and let the big guys hit me in,” Madrigal said. “It’s always been my game.

“So I don’t try to change at all. I know people are going to say a lot of things about that. I’ve tried to perfect my craft, my style of play, getting on base, so I’m not too worried.”

Don’t forget

Rutherford, 22, added about 12 pounds of muscle over the offseason, moving from just under 200 pounds at the end of the 2019 season to 212. The key for Rutherford is to do the right things to keep the new strength on all year.

“During the Minor League season, it’s hard with road trips,” Rutherford said. “But it’s preparation, have food ready to eat. We are doing stuff in the weight room to make sure I can keep this weight on and perform at a high level.”

“I think he has heard the criticism of ‘Is he ever going to hit for power?’, which quite frankly we are not that focused on for him at this point,” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn of Rutherford. “It’s more a matter of getting him where he needs to be in terms of consistency and his approach.”

Adolfo, 23, was limited to 128 at-bats in ’19 due to arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. Prior to this latest injury, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound outfielder was showing greater maturity at the plate with the ability to lay off pitchers' pitches out of the zone. He will be full-go health-wise and able to play the outfield.

“No holding back,” Adolfo said. “My arm strength is building its way back up. But right now, I feel great.”

The Sleeper

At 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, Mercedes looks more like an NFL fullback than an MLB catcher. But the right-handed-hitting Mercedes, 27, had a .317/.388/.581 slash line across stops at Triple-A Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham last season to go with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs. He’s firmly in play for the 26th spot on the roster even with Yasmani Grandal and James McCann ahead of him on the depth chart and fellow catcher Zack Collins also in the picture.

“He’s simply fun to watch, and Yermin can hit,” Hahn said. “All Yermin does is hit every level he goes to. He’s pretty good back there behind the plate in terms of his ability to control a running game, his framing, his lateral movement and even for a big guy, it’s pretty strong.”

“When he’s in the batter’s box, it doesn’t look the prettiest,” Madrigal said. “But it seems like everything he hits is hard. He’s an exciting player.”

The Star

OK, not a star quite yet, since Robert hasn’t faced one regular-season Major League pitch. But even flyouts, groundouts and strikeouts will entice Cactus League fans coming from the No. 3 prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline.