Nicky Delmonico demands our attention, if only for a moment.
In the midst of an all-in rebuild of the Chicago White Sox, general manager Rick Hahn has focused on acquiring high-upside, high-risk assets who could help the club in future seasons. Delmonico is not that. He was signed to a minor-league deal after being released by the Brewers in 2015, having failed to reach even Double-A.
Now, three years later, Delmonico is living a charmed life. Over his first 87 career major-league plate appearances, he owns a .315/.425/.589 slash line and .427 wOBA — a figure that’s 70% better than league average. He even hit his first home run in Fenway Park, against the club for which he grew up rooting.
Not surprisingly, there’s a lot to suggest the fun won’t continue — at least not to this degree. According to Baseball Savant, Delmonico has been nearly the most fortunate hitter in baseball this season among those who have seen at least 200 pitches. He’s recorded the fifth-highest wOBA relative to his xwOBA of the 474 players in that sample.
The outfielder possesses a pedestrian average exit velocity of 82.9 mph through his first 59 batted balls tracked by Statcast. He’s barreled just 5.1% of those balls in play, another pedestrian figure.
Nor are the underlying skills indicative of a future star. Delmonico was never rated as a top prospect (though he did rank 92nd on the stats-only KATOH top 100 list this year). Confined to the corner outfield, Delmonico has to hit just to be average.
But Delmonico — a former bat boy at the University of Tennessee, where his father coached — doesn’t need to be a star for this to be a success story. Steamer and ZiPS project him to be a league-average bat (99 wRC+) going forward this season.
Just reaching the major leagues is, of course, an accomplishment — particularly for Delmonico, who beat an addiction to Adderall according to The Chicago Tribune. Delmonico was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball in 2014.
“I knew if I was going to get back into baseball, I needed to get myself right,” Delmonico, 25, said Tuesday. “I dug down deep. Not only did I learn about the medicine and what it was doing to me, but I had to figure out what was going on in my life and get back to being myself.”
If that marked rock bottom for Delmonico, his descent began the previous summer when he was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball. The July 2014 press release from the Commissioner’s office announced Delmonico, a top 20 Brewers Class A prospect at the time, tested positive “for an amphetamine.” The stigma weighed too heavy to bear.
A sixth-round pick by the Orioles in 2011 who was traded to Milwaukee for Francisco Rodriguez, Delmonico was released by the Brewers in February 2015. He then signed with the White Sox.
And for no acquisition cost, the White Sox are enjoying a surprise rookie campaign and perhaps a useful major-league player.
While Delmonico is outplaying his true talent level, he is also doing some interesting things. Most notably, he’s recorded an 89.9% zone-contact rate and a .274 ISO. The only players to post a better zone-contact mark with a .200-or-better ISO?
|Jose Abreu||White Sox||539||90.4%||.235||129|
|Curtis Granderson||– – –||419||90.4%||.255||112|
|Average||– – –||– – –||– – –||– – –||136|
Z-Con denotes zone-contact rate.
Not bad company.
Delmonico has displayed the ability to hit for average, hit for power, and also to draw walks at times in the minor leagues — just rarely all in the same campaign. He’s put it all together at the major-league level. It’s unlikely it lasts — he’s not going to sustain 30% HR/FB rate — but he has opened some eyes and, at the very least, extended his stay.
The White Sox are a rebuilding club; they should be giving players like Delmonico a chance. Maybe this will be Delmonico’s equivalent of 15 minutes of fame, or maybe the White Sox have found a useful player — who with a left-handed bat — who could occupy the strong side of a platoon. For what it’s worth, White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Delmonico has an “it” factor. He perhaps also has some defensive versatility, having played quite a bit of third base in the minors.
“There are certain people that have a quality about them that you can’t define or describe,’’ Renteria said. “You just know they have it. And he’s one of those people. There is a specialness to him.’’
Delmonico isn’t likely to be a star, but maybe he can be something. In arriving at all, he has beaten the odds.