Sacramento River Cats

Area Baseball Beat: Despite stature, Elk Grove High’s Nick Madrigal looks like top prospect

Elk Grove High School senior Nick Madrigal can play in the majors now, according to former big-league shortstop David Eckstein.

That’s a bold statement about someone who is 17 years old and just 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds.

Eckstein understands what it takes to make misconception about size in baseball disappear. Eckstein, just 5-6, was the 2006 World Series MVP with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I think he can play shortstop in the big leagues right now, to be honest with you,” Eckstein told Baseball America. “It is definitely rare to see someone who, at that age, has the ability to understand the proper foot technique to get in position for the ball, and then have the quickness in the hands and have it transfer to a game.”

Eckstein, who was the Tournament of Stars position player coordinator in Cary, N.C., this summer, said young players can look great in drills but totally different when the game’s first pitch is thrown.

“Players can do it in a showcase, but then you actually put them in a game and everything slows back down and they put themselves in bad positions, especially on routine balls,” Eckstein said. “And Nick doesn’t do that. Nick transfers what you see in a showcase into a game, and that’s what’s so exciting about him. The shortstops that are more toward the top of the list right now don’t even compare to Nick.”

Madrigal’s team coach at the Tournament of Stars was Pace University (Pleasantville, N.Y.) head coach Hank Manning. Manning’s initial thoughts about Madrigal were predictable.

“Well, I guess my first impressions were probably like everybody else,” Manning told Baseball America. “He’s just an undersized guy.”

That opinion quickly changed.

“Right away, you see the athleticism and then you see his bounce and his ability to play the infield,” Manning said. “And he really has a lot of energy and he makes things happen. Sometimes they say good things happen in small packages … that’s definitely what you have with Nick.”

Madrigal showed his hands and footwork were quicker, throws more accurate and instincts off the chart.

“Size doesn’t really matter,” Madrigal said. “I mean, like Dustin Pedroia (Woodland). He’s one of my favorite players, and I look at him and he’s not very big at all, but he’s one of the (majors’) best players. So size doesn’t matter at the end of the day, it’s just how you play the game and how hard you play it.”

Madrigal’s transition into a sure-handed shortstop isn’t a complicated one. “Buckets and buckets of ground balls,” he said.

The Oregon State commit isn’t just a one-dimensional player. He knows how to use the bat and has exceptional speed.

Madrigal showed the ability to hit to all fields and produce above-average contact against the best high school pitching at his level. He hit .389 in 19 plate appearances and was the only player with more than 10 at-bats who didn’t strike out.

“I’m kind of a table-setter,” Madrigal told Baseball America. “Basically try and get things going and get on base. Maybe try and steal a couple bags. Just base hits, gap-to-gap and let the big guys do all the work.”

After the TOS and competing against more than 100 of the nation’s finest high school players, the scouting report described Madrigal this way:

“He is a contact-oriented right-handed hitter who did not strike out in Cary, producing tough at-bats. He has feel for the barrel and can hit to all fields. Madrigal is a scrappy player who plays hard and offers plus speed. He shows very quick hands at shortstop, as well as a quick transfer that helps his arm play up. He is an advanced defender who cuts down ground at shortstop and puts himself in advantageous throwing positions.”

Could Madrigal be the next Larry Bowa (McClatchy, Sacramento City), a Gold Glove shortstop with an OK bat, or the next Jeff Blauser (Placer, Sacramento City), a Silver Slugger bat with an OK glove?

Saturday, following six days of trials in Houston, Madrigal was among 20 players selected for the 18U National Team. The squad will attempt to become the first U.S. team to win three consecutive gold medals.

The 10-team 18U COPABE Pan American Championship in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, begins Friday.