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After stepping back, Nicky Delmonico one step away

Prospect growing with White Sox after bottoming out with suspension in Milwaukee’s system

Nicky Delmonico
Jim Margalus / South Side Sox

Nicky Delmonico isn't wasting his second chance at baseball.

"I really appreciate this opportunity because baseball was almost taken away from me. I enjoy not just playing, but the coaching staff and the guys I play against. Just being able to come to the ballpark and be with my teammates, it's not hard to smile about that."

Things weren't so simple just three years ago. While playing in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, Delmonico was suspended for using Adderall, which is often prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder.

"I had been taking it since high school, and in taking it more and more I built up a tolerance," he said. "It was affecting not only on the field but off as well."

Delmonico said his initial use of Adderall was documented and approved by Major League Baseball, but after experiencing the side effects, he asked to be taken off the medication.

"It was a lot harder for me dealing with not taking this medicine everyday," he said. "You get used to a routine, when you come off of it, it changes you."

Delmonico ended up reusing Adderall, without the consent of MLB. When he did, a drug test revealed a positive result. He was suspended for 50 games of the 2014 minor league season.

"I went to a dark place," he said. "Not many people knew I was prescribed this medicine, the troubles it was causing me. I had to get to a point where I needed to get help, I needed to get back to being who I was."

The Brewers placed Delmonico on the team's restricted list. He had had enough — he knew he needed help. Delmonico asked for and was granted his release from the Brewers. Milwaukee farm director Reid Nichols said at the time, "With all the maintenance, we didn't feel like he was a major-league prospect. So, the work wasn't worth it. It was too much to deal with. There was a lot going on there."

Delmonico did have baggage to conquer. He said he had been home to his family and friends in Knoxville, Tenn., taking stock of himself.

"I knew for me to be right for another team, I had to be right for myself," Delmonico explained. "That five-month period at home, I thought I was done with baseball."

That all changed in February 2015. The White Sox came calling, and Delmonico jumped at the chance.

"(Assistant GM) Buddy Bell and (former farm director) Nick Capra were behind me. Tommy Thompson was a huge help. They got me help," Delmonico said. "When I came back, they welcomed me with open arms. I felt like it was a fresh start for me."

Delmonico, now 24, has repaid them by putting himself in position for a potential call to Chicago. The 50-game suspension delayed the start of his 2015 season with the Barons, but he opened his first full season with the White Sox by raking in Birmingham, prompting a midseason promotion to Charlotte. After initial struggles with Triple-A pitching in 2016, he’s made substantial progress this season, most notably cutting his K rate by 10 percent. He’s hitting .268/.350/.420 with just 26 strikeouts over 177 plate appearances.

He has started mostly at third base in the Queen City, where he has committed 10 errors in 36 games, although he shows the ability to make the occasional highlight-reel play

Recently, Delmonico has seen time in right field as a way to explore his versatility.

"If they need me in right, that's fine," Delmonico said. "(Adam) Engel and (outfielder coordinator Aaron) Rowand have helped me a lot in taking in as much as I can to learn the position. If they need another left-handed bat, I'm just doing anything I can to help the team."

Charlotte Knights manager Mark Grudzielanek said they’re going to test his flexibility.

"Nicky's a great athlete," Grudzielanek said. "He's a good third basemen, he can play the corners in the outfield. We're going to move him around a little bit. He's going to be a valuable asset in the big leagues."

As for his hitting, the praise from Knights hitting coach Andy Tomberlin aligns with Grudzielanek’s.

"Nicky has improved a lot," Tomberlin said. "He's a very balanced hitter, he's become more disciplined.

"We're really proud of the progress he's made. He has a great future. He comes to the ballpark everyday prepared. Coming from a baseball background, he does probably go to sleep with it and wakes up with it. I know that's an advantage other guys don't have."

Delmonico's father, Rod, was an assistant baseball coach at Florida International, Clemson and Florida State University before serving as the head baseball coach at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville from 1990 through 2007. He also managed the Netherlands to an improbable victory over the Dominican Republic in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

"Ever since I can remember, I was in a dugout," the younger Delmonico recalls. "For me it was awesome being around guys who took the game seriously, just talking baseball and hanging around the dugout. My dad's love for the game definitely had an effect on me."

"Being around the game as a kid, you learn things quicker, you adapt the process of the game easier." says Grudzielanek. "That's the mental side of the game that, no question he benefits from. You see a lot of that through players or managers and their kids, to be out there and be a step ahead."

Delmonico has yet to hear his name called to the majors, but he is aware that here in Charlotte, he is a quick phone call away from fulfilling his big league dreams.

"You don't want to ever get too excited. You can't control any of that," Delmonico said. "Coming to the ballpark and grinding everyday, you never know who's watching or what can happen. I try my best to control the little things and be ready if my name is called."