Nick Madrigal has a critical role to play for the Cubs this year

St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs - Game One
St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs - Game One / Nuccio DiNuzzo/GettyImages

With the addition of Dansby Swanson, the Cubs middle infield will take on a new look in 2023 - with Swanson handling the day-to-day duties at shortstop and Nico Hoerner sliding over to second, a position he was a Gold Glove finalist at back in 2020.

That leaves another former first-round pick, Nick Madrigal, as the odd man out up the middle. Last year's Opening Day starter at second, the 25-year-old battled injuries in his first full season with the Cubs and wound up playing in just 59 games while posting a .588 OPS.

Nick Madrigal can be an important piece for the Cubs in 2023

Although more than a few folks are ready to cut bait and move on from Madrigal, the Cubs see him as an integral piece to the puzzle - and rightfully so. We haven't seen this guy at his best since he came over in the Craig Kimbrel trade that also netted right-hander Codi Heuer ahead of the 2021 trade deadline. But even in last year's disastrous season, there are some bright spots and things Madrigal can build off heading into camp this spring.

In August and September last year before his season was cut short by more injuries, the former Oregon State standout got on base at a .348 clip and got back to showcasing the bat-to-ball skills that made him a consensus top 100 prospect coming up through the White Sox system.

In a sitdown with the Marquee Network, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer laid out his plan for Madrigal this year, which includes time all over the infield - including third base - as well as reps out of the DH spot in hopes of keeping a contact-focused bat in the lineup regularly.

"Certainly, guys get hurt, guys need days off. I think he’ll probably play some third base as well. We wanna have a really versatile infield, so we expect that he’s definitely gonna work over there and take reps ... It’s not the way you think of a stereotypical third baseman — power, slugger, but he’s a really good hitter, really good player. He can definitely do it."

Jed Hoyer, via Marquee Network

Despite the disappointing start to his Cubs career, Madrigal is the exact type of player the team has lacked in recent years - a guy who gets on base and makes consistent contact, sacrificing power and sidestepping the launch angle craze that's swept through the game.

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Prior to 2022, Madrigal had never - that's right, never - batted below .300 in a single season, dating back to his college playing days. That type of consistency tells me all I need to know about the tools he possesses. This is a guy who, when he's healthy, is going to find ways to put the ball in play. And even in today's power-hungry game, there's always a roster spot for players with that skillset.