Nicky Delmonico Might Be Something

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?

Consider:

Nicky Delmonico’s Comparables?
Name Team PA Z-Con ISO wRC+
Jose Altuve Astros 539 92.5% .208 165
Marwin Gonzalez Astros 400 92.1% .244 149
Charlie Blackmon Rockies 569 90.0% .285 143
Anthony Rendon Nationals 476 91.7% .243 142
Daniel Murphy Nationals 475 94.5% .231 136
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 548 90.2% .244 135
Jose Abreu White Sox 539 90.4% .235 129
Jose Ramirez Indians 514 92.6% .219 127
Mike Moustakas Royals 482 90.4% .277 122
Curtis Granderson – – – 419 90.4% .255 112
Average – – – – – – – – – – – – 136
Of 153 qualified batters.
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.

We hoped you liked reading Nicky Delmonico Might Be Something by Travis Sawchik!

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A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Mentioned this on another thread about the circumstances of Delmonico’s release, and thought I would re-post part of it here. Sorry for the cross-postings…

*******

Delmonico has an odd backstory. The O’s had a habit of trading away guys for not-so-useful rentals pretty much every year (as an O’s fan, I’m sure you remember). The Brewers nabbed Zach Davies that way. An earlier trade netted them Nick Delmonico (as he was known then).

Delmonico was an “interesting” prospect but not necessarily a “good” one. Dad was a baseball coach, and Delmonico had an “advanced” approach at the plate, but it wasn’t bearing much in the way of results. He didn’t have a ton of power (at least so they thought at the time) but he might grow into it. No one was sure he could stick at third (he had some ability) but just wasn’t very good there, and everyone thought he was going to wind up at 1st at some point.

And then, one day, Delmonico just left. They couldn’t find him. When they did track him down, he wouldn’t return phone calls. So the Brewers cut him. According to him (later) he had asked the Brewers to cut him so he could retire, then left, although he caught on with the White Sox after being cut so if he wanted to retire he changed his mind pretty fast.

I googled around when I saw his story here to see if we ever found out what happened a few years ago, and the only thing I found was a vague non-answer from him saying “I had some past issues with some stuff that I’d like to keep to myself.”

****

In any case, the Chicago Tribune story gave us the final story.

“Delmonico feared the label of drug cheat would impede his path to the majors, his goal since he was a bat boy for the University of Tennessee, where his dad, Rod, coached from 1990-2007. He figured nobody would care to learn the real story; that he became conditioned to taking Adderall, which MLB had approved for medical purposes, but decided to come off the drug before the 2014 season so not to become overly dependent…
…Withdrawal symptoms changed the young man with the infectious personality. His moods swung. Suddenly, Delmonico craved the way he used to feel…
…When he resumed taking Adderall, Delmonico neglected to notify MLB to gain the exemption he once had, and the positive test and suspension sent his emotions spiraling. On the flight home to Tennessee after his forced baseball exile, he reached a hasty conclusion…
“I got home and told my mom, ‘I’m done playing,'” Delmonico said. “I just didn’t have the love or passion for it. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”

It goes on to talk about how the assistant GM of the White Sox knew Nick Delmonico’s father, and checked in on him after that.