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White Sox youngsters look to seize opportunity

Robert, Madrigal leading talented prospect pool toward Windy City
Robert Madrigal and Luis Robert both jumped two levels last year and finished the season at Triple-A Charlotte. (Gregory Bull/AP)
March 9, 2020

GLENDALE, Arizona -- Rejoice, White Sox fans. The future is now.Or at least, it's almost here. 

GLENDALE, Arizona -- Rejoice, White Sox fans. The future is now.
Or at least, it's almost here. 

That certainly seems to be the vibe in big league camp as the White Sox look to push some of their most promising talent to the Major Leagues. After for good reason: The White Sox are the only organization with its top four farmhands ranked inside the top 40 on's list of top prospects
Those four would be third-ranked Luis Robert, No. 16 Andrew Vaughn, No. 20 Michael Kopech and No. 40 Nick Madrigal. From that quartet, all but Vaughn are expected to join the White Sox in 2020 and could even open the year in the Majors. Vaughn, Chicago's first-round pick last year and the 2018 Golden Spikes Award recipient, is projected to be ready by 2021. For the rest, ample opportunities in spring could prove to be deciding factors.
"My focus every Spring Training is to come here and do my job," Robert, the club's top prospect, said through translator Billy Russo. "I try to help the team, and I try to make the team. This year especially, because we're putting all the pieces together."
Fans saw a quick glimpse of those pieces Saturday when Robert, Vaughn and Madrigal all took the field together in a game against the Giants, catching a preview of what many hope will become the norm. 
With the White Sox trailing by five, Madrigal led off the top of the sixth with a single to left field. Robert followed with a single of his own before being lifted for pinch-runner Luis Alexander Basabe, the club's ninth-ranked prospect. Nomar Mazara then singled in Madrigal, setting the table with two on and nobody out for Vaughn, who quickly ripped an opposite field, run-scoring knock. 
Chicago would go on to take the lead, exploding for a six-run inning that was sparked by Madrigal, the No. 2 second base prospect. Yes, it's a Spring Training game, and the stats and scores don't officially count. But the anticipation of it all was enticing enough, and not just from a fan perspective. 
"It's a lot of fun being out there with those guys," Madrigal said. "I've had a chance to play with Andrew Vaughn over the summer briefly, so I know what kind of player he is. Here in camp you can see how much talent he has. Robert, he's unbelievable, too. You can see how much talent there is going through a game, defensively and offensively."
"Being a part of this is really cool," Vaughn echoed. "(Robert and Madrigal) are phenomenal athletes and they're exciting players to watch."
That certainly seems to be the consensus. Chicago's thriving farm system -- which took the sixth spot in's recent overall rankings -- and its top prospects' close proximity to the Majors come as quite the reprieve for a fan base that hasn't celebrated a winning season since 2012, and last made the playoffs in 2008. It's been a considerable drought in the South Side, but Madrigal insists there's no pressure.
"I think it's more exciting than anything," he said. "That's the kind of vibe from players in the locker room. We don't feel that much pressure at all.
"It's fun being out there -- it's a game, you have to enjoy it, you know?" the 2018 first-rounder out of Oregon State added. "At the end of the day, if you're taking it too seriously and stressing about your results on the field, you're probably not going to do too well. I think everyone in this clubhouse kind of knows that. There's a lot of humor going around, we keep it light all the time. We have the right group of guys for this." 
That approach seems to be paying off for the heralded prospects. Robert's spring stats jump off the page: in nine games, he's homered, tripled, doubled twice and swiped three bags. The top outfield prospect -- who has an inside track on an Opening Day spot after signing a six-year deal this offseason -- has a .370 average to go with a whopping 1.060 OPS. Vaughn is 7-for-20 in 11 games, posting a .350/.480/.600 line. Madrigal overcame some early spring struggles to record a hit in four of his last five games. 
Robert and Madrigal shined in the Minor League circuit last season. They were both promoted twice, topping out in the Triple-A International League. In 47 games with the Knights, Robert compiled a .297/.341/.634 line. Madrigal ripped a .331 average and .822 OPS in 29 games at the Triple-A level. 
Kopech serves as the final component of Chicago's prospect core. The highly touted 23-year-old debuted in the Majors in August of 2018 but underwent Tommy John surgery just one month later. The procedure sidelined the fourth-ranked right-hander for the entirety of the 2019 season. And while the White Sox will certainly be cautious, Kopech is scheduled to make his first appearance since the surgery Tuesday with a start against the Rangers.
"It's been a long time coming for me," Kopech said. "I was taking it day by day, but the closer we got I started to feel a little more anxious, a little more excited. Worked up, but in a good way. There's a lot of excitement going on." 
With 2020 highlighted as the year the White Sox could push themselves into contention, the expectations are sky-high. Even for Vaughn, who presumably won't be with the club for at least another year, the atmosphere in the big league clubhouse has already made an impact.

"Getting an opportunity to still be around the big league club right now, it's such a great honor," he said. "Going from playing college baseball last year and now getting to do this, it just kind of gives me something to strive for. I want to be back in this clubhouse as soon as possible.
The University of California product and top-rated first base prospect smiles before continuing.
"The vibe around here has been unbelievable," he said. "It's a winning vibe. It's a championship vibe."
Madrigal doesn't hesitate to back him up.
"The next couple years should be very exciting for White Sox fans and White Sox players," he said, "They're getting a glimpse of it. I'm definitely excited. I feel like this is the right time to be in the White Sox organization."
Time will tell, but from a spring preview, it certainly looks to be the case.

Katie Woo is a contributor to Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.