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Nicky Delmonico falling as fast as he rose

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The wrist injury is the simpler of the explanations

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The secret to a surprisingly watchable first season of Extreme Makeover: White Sox Edition? A steady stream of fine introductions from new characters.

Maybe Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia weren’t entirely new, but they occupied new roles like “potential batting champ” and “possible everyday center fielder.” When Leury got hurt, Adam Engel took over and provided superior center field defense with a bat that wasn’t empty, at least at the beginning. After that, the Sox finally started dipping into the top prospect list, with Yoan Moncada and Reynaldo Lopez commanding the attention.

These successes varied in length, but the White Sox overlapped them well, with the new guys providing enough excitement to keep fans from dwelling on the failures of players the league figured out, or injury undermined.

Nicky Delmonico might have been the greatest sensation of them all. He came out blasting, hitting .343/.443/.642 with six homers over his first three weeks after getting the call at the start of August. More importantly, he drew 11 walks, showing the kind of eye not often seen from White Sox prospects.

Just when he started earning headlines from guarded (FanGraphs: “Nicky Delmonico might be something”) to hamfisted (CSN: “Nicky Delmonico is the hero we don’t deserve”), he found hard times.

He’s just 6-for-43 over his last 14 games, most of them coming after a stint on the disabled list for a sprained right wrist. It’s not completely empty, as he’s hit two homers and drawn nine walks, but there’s a large void, what with the 12 strikeouts and three double plays.

Some regression was inevitable, as nothing about Delmonico’s minor-league profile screamed “Four-digit OPS!” The questions are how long this slide will last, and what’s the chief cause. Regarding the latter, there are two.

Simple: The injury. Delmonico went on the disabled list with a sprained right wrist, dividing his season into two parts that line up well with his hot and cold periods (he went 0-for-8 in his final three games before the DL stint, but drew four walks to one strikeout).

Sure enough, you look at his spray charts, and he’s lost the ability to lift to the pull field. His bunt singles forced defenses to respect him on the left side, but he hasn’t been capable of capitalizing on the real estate. That’s usually an indicator of lost bat speed, or something else suboptimal about his swing.

Complicated: The book. Maybe Delmonico’s issues are primarily health-related, but pitchers have also attacked him differently in September. Chris Devenski showed one method with his sequence in the eighth inning on Tuesday.

  1. Fastball, ball
  2. Fastball, ball
  3. Changeup, swinging strike
  4. Changeup, swinging strike
  5. Changeup, swinging strike

Devenski’s changeup is one of the best in the league, so that’s not necessarily damning in an individual at-bat, but it reflects what he’s seeing during his second month in the league — more changeups and more sliders.

During his first three weeks, pitchers tried to use curve balls to get him out, but Delmonico didn’t have a problem with the four-seam/curve combo that’s so popular in the game right now.

In September, he’s seen changeups more frequently, especially in fastball counts. Sinkers are thrown as often as four-seamers, and back-foot sliders took the place of curves in the strategy. and he hasn’t been able to get much in the way of lift.

Brooks Baseball

I’m guessing the injury — with the lack of rehab games in September — probably creates too much noise to know whether the book is making the difference. After all, before Devenski pantsed Delmonico with changeups, Delmonico swung at five Collin McHugh fastballs over the first three plate appearances. He whiffed three times, fouled another one back, and then popped out to short. He had worked favorable counts against McHugh, and McHugh’s fastball barely touches 90, so he shouldn’t have looked that overmatched.

Fortunately, Delmonico’s slide has been covered by other positive developments, like Moncada catching fire, Jose Abreu hunting for 100 RBIs and a few others. These should sustain our interest the rest of the season, so the Sox don’t need Delmonico to improve their product from here on out.

The Sox will need a positive story like Delmonico’s to stick at some point, because a rebuild requires more than top prospects to flesh out a roster. Perhaps it will be Delmonico, once he gets past whatever part of his struggles is hampering him more.