Who will be this year’s Nicky Delmonico?
It’s kind of a strange question, considering Delmonico is always himself. But it’s a question that gets at this topic: Who will be the late-season surprise that makes 2020 lineup projectors pause and puts on enough of a show to start the conversation about their place in the White Sox long-term plans?
To this point, that guy has been Daniel Palka. The slugger with a flair for the dramatic hasn’t excelled in every facet of the game, but his power displays, often in clutch moments, have earned him a loyal fan base in this rebuilding season. Considering he wasn’t even a member of the organization when the campaign began, it doesn’t really get more surprising than that.
Meanwhile, Delmonico hasn’t matched the impressive numbers he was able to put up at the close of last season, when he came out of nowhere — as in, not high on the list of the organization’s top prospects — to slash .262/.373/.482 with nine homers and 23 RBIs in just 43 games.
A hand injury that knocked him out for months, the dip in his numbers — .229/.322/.388 heading into Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Royals — and the ever-increasing amount of depth among the White Sox outfield prospects has perhaps taken Delmonico out of that conversation about the future.
But with home runs on back-to-back nights and a total of six RBIs in the last two games, perhaps Delmonico can play a similar role to the one he played last season, coming out of nowhere and staking his claim to future consideration. A strong finish might keep his name in the mix as the outfield of the future crowds with the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Luis Alexander Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Alex Call and Joel Booker.
“It would be huge just to end the year on a good note,” Delmonico said Sunday. “But all I’m trying to do is control what I can control and go out there and give it everything I have.”
Delmonico obviously has experience in finishing the season strong. His production at the big league level at the end of last season came after a slow stretch in the middle of the summer, when he posted only a .216 batting average in the month of July while playing at Triple-A Charlotte.
This season, Delmonico’s numbers haven’t been much better in the second half than they were during a slow start ahead of the hand injury. Since the All-Star break, Delmonico is slashing .236/.304/.528 but with 11 extra-base hits including a quartet of homers. He said he can use the experience of turning things around last summer to close this season strong.
“When I was in Charlotte, I kind of hit a rough July and then kind of picked it up. And then when I was here, I kind of picked it up again and learned from a lot of my teammates, a lot of other guys,” he said. “I’m trying to pick up that same thing, that same mentality of where I was last year and just trying to go out and compete, learn and see what happens.”
Manager Rick Renteria, talking amid Delmonico’s two recent long balls, has liked what he’s seen.
“He’s been swinging the bat pretty good,” Renteria said Saturday. “I think he’s a little more fluid. (Friday), he put a good swing on that pitch that he was able to drive out of the ballpark. He’s getting more and more comfortable. Hopefully, it continues. We’ve got (however many) more days of the regular season left. All of these guys, at this point, you hope that they turn the corner and they start to improve on certain things that they’ve been working on throughout the course of the season.”
While the wave of prospects that is rolling its way toward the South Side figures to hold the bulk of the outfield of the future, of the time when rebuilding mode transforms into contention mode, there are unique opportunities for the guys currently playing at the major league level. Though that’s not to say Delmonico is currently without competition: Palka has impressed with his power, Leury Garcia has earned playing time with a solid bat, Adam Engel has been tremendous defensively, and Avisail Garcia was an All Star a season ago.
“I can learn from them, it’s awesome,” Delmonico said of his fellow big league outfielders. “I can learn from Adam, Avi, Leury, all these guys that are really good out there. As well as Palka, we go out there every day for early work. Just kind of learn from them. I try to motivate them, they motivate me and we continue to go.”
The opportunity is still there for someone like Delmonico, who at only 26 could still work his way into — or back into — those 2020 lineup projections.