"I think we've got something special here."
That quote has been said many times to describe the 2017 Charlotte Knights, who continue to boast four of Major League Baseball's top prospects. But coming from slugger Nicky Delmonico, it means something different.
While he is not named on a majority of prospect lists, the 24-year-old Delmonico provides a consistency on and off that field that has helped Charlotte start strong at BB&T Ballpark.
On the field, the Tennessee native recorded nine runs and 13 total bases through his first four contests and reached base safely in Charlotte's first 12 home games. Playing nearly every day in manager Mark Grudzielanek's lineup, Delmonico sits near the International League lead in hits, extra-base hits, total bases, and runs scored.
"You can see that he's a student of the game," Knights hitting coach Andy Tomberlin said. "He's always engaged in the game and his teammates. He brings great energy and he's fun to watch."
At Farragut High School near Knoxville, Tennessee, that energy began to be noticed on the national stage. There, Delmonico led his high school to three straight state titles and launched a walk-off home run to win the 2010 Class AAA championship.
For his accomplishments, he was invited to represent his country and play on USA Baseball's under-18 select team in both 2009 and 2010, sharing a diamond with MLB superstars such as Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado.
"Playing with talented guys, to be able to watch them play and learn how they played the game," Delmonico explained. "Of course you pick up on things like that."
The experience also helped him understand what it takes to take the next step not only on the field, but off of it.
"Putting on the uniform and playing for your country was something special every day. But so was being around guys that appreciated putting on the uniform with you and going out there and battling against other countries. Standing on the line for the national anthem with USA across your chest was something special."
Everything the game of baseball had given Delmonico is the reason he came back to it. After being traded from the Orioles, who drafted him in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Delmonico was suspended for 50 games and released by the Milwaukee Brewers.
At home before nearly walking away from the sport for good, the Chicago White Sox gave him a call. So far, the hard-hitting third baseman has made the most of his opportunity.
After spending 2015 primarily at Class AA Birmingham, Delmonico raked his way to Triple-A Charlotte in early 2016. Following a strong August and September last season, he posted a strong spring training and returned to the Knights where ranks among the team leaders in nearly every offensive category.
Being back in Charlotte has also given Delmonico stability that he has been unable to find his entire career. After spending time with five teams across three organizations, he is now a critical part of the Knights success going forward. It took numerous ups and downs, but Delmonico is now just one step away from reaching the major leagues. Getting there has been complex, but that doesn't mean Delmonico approaches things any different outside of the foul lines and away from the ballpark.
"My whole goal is to be a great teammate, to be there for my teammates on and off the field. Go out there and play hard every day and try to get better for myself."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.