In the 2011 draft, Baltimore drafted prep catcher/third baseman Nicky Delmonico in the sixth round for a bonus of 1.525 million. Entering the 2011 high school season, the Knoxville, Tennessee product and son of former Volunteers head coach Rod Delmonico was expected to be a first round pick before injuries and bonus demands caused him to slip. Additionally, a strong commitment to the University of Georgia and opportunity to play alongside his older brother made him an extremely hard sign. However, the Orioles ponied up the cash and somewhat surprisingly signed the left-handed hitter causing him to instantly become one of the top position prospects in the organization.
Of course being a position prospect assumes the ability to actually function somewhere on the defensive spectrum and Delmonico has moved around quite a bit the past couple of years leaving many to wonder where he fits. And while Delmonico’s bat is steady, I wouldn’t categorize it as having impact potential meaning where he plays on the diamond is vital to projecting his value as a prospect. Surprisingly enough, Delmonico has been logging games at second base this season. Having seen him take many reps there prior to a game in Asheville, I’m not sold on his ability to play an up-the-middle position, but commend the Orioles for at least attempting to stretch him defensively.
A widely misunderstood part of prospecting is positional value in relation to prospect value. A great example of this is New York Yankees corner outfield prospect Tyler Austin and his gaudy .329/.404/.653 in the South Atlantic League. The numbers are fantastic, but the fact he’s a corner outfielder negatively affects his prospect value because a big bat profile is an expectation in right field, not a luxury. This is why organizations will allow prospects to remain at positions which stretch, if not surpass actual defensive ability. It’s why Mets prospect Wilmer Flores remained at shortstop for a few years after his inability to play there became the worst kept secret in all of minor league baseball. For the Orioles, forcing Delmonico to play his way off of a more premium defensive position is the best way to maximize his overall value as a prospect.
On offense, Delmonico profiles as a solid all-around hitter with a more polished approach. Unlike most young hitters, he’s not afraid to let the ball travel deep in the batter’s box before attacking with a line drive stroke and flatter swing plane than is expected from left-handed hitters. At present, it’s a mixed bag in terms of projecting future power, but the over/under is more in the average range than above or plus. Adding to the questionable power projection is the fact he’s well-developed physically, a bit of an older draft pick, and my perception that his driving the baseball will come more from the parts of his swing working in unison over raw power or strength. This leaves less margin for error in how well Delmonico will need to square up the baseball to generate power. Additionally, his swing had a tendency to become long, but an already strong eye should allow him to barrel the baseball more than prospects who simply give away at bats due to poor plate discipline.
Having arrived at the park four hours prior to first pitch, I witnessed Delmonico take a minimum of 40-50 reps between first and second base. And while my looks were not during game action, Delmonico worked closely with one of the Delmarva coaches to hone his defensive chops. On one hand, Delmonico fielded more than he miffed and was able to work into grooves where he field a number of baseballs consecutively. On the other, his hands appeared stiff, he stayed too tall in fielding position and the gray-haired, mustached coach turned double plays with greater ease than did Delmonico.
On the bases, the only legitimate home-to-first time pulled from video was a 4.35 leaving him a 45 runner on the 20/80 scale. It’s functional speed at present, but will be a concern for as long as he remains at second base. Additionally, Delmonico will need to focus on increasing his agility and upping his athleticism to move better laterally. This isn’t me saying he can’t play second base, only that it will be an uphill battle.
At third or first base, Nicky Delmonico profiles as more of a “tweener” than future starter at the major league level. Should he prove capable enough to remain at second base, Delmonico strikes me as a Neil Walker clone with the upside of a two-to-three win starter. Walker is not an impact player by any means, but he’s a been a slightly above average offensive player while gradually improving on defense. A nice player to have on the roster for sure, but not one to build a franchise around. Sounds like the big league version of Delmonico in a nutshell.