In Saturday’s contest against the Yankees, Trayce Thompson, who until recently was mired in the worst slump in franchise history, left the game with what ended up being an injury to an oblique muscle sustained during a check swing.
With the Dodgers recently trading a prospect who wasn’t on the 40-man roster (Luis Valdez) for another prospect who would have to be added to the 40-man roster (Ricky Vanasco), the club was left with precious few cards left to play to cover right-handed portion of a conglomerate-like rotating platoon situation that already featured three firmly ensconced lefty bats in James Outman, Jason Heyward, and David Peralta.
Really, there was only one option left — a mustachioed Agoura High School alum by the name of Jonny DeLuca.
DeLuca was selected by the Dodgers in the 25th round of the 2019 draft out of the University of Oregon. Back then, the 6’0, 200 lbs outfielder was a switch hitting speedster with very little sock, as he slugged just .354 during his college career. What he did show was the ability to hit with a wood bat, as he went to the prestigious Cape Cod League after his freshman year, where he posted a higher OPS (.737) than he would in either of his two seasons as a Duck.
The Dodgers went on to draft DeLuca and they sent him to the Arizona Complex League, where he immediately displayed what has him in the conversation today: as a lefty vs. right-handed pitchers he posted an OPS of .632. As a righty vs. lefthanded pitchers his OPS was 1.037. His switch-hitting days were done.
After two seasons of banging his way through the minor league system, DeLuca remained a relative unknown when he was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from being poached in the Rule 5 Draft. Still, the Dodgers saw enough to invest a precious roster spot in the 24-year-old, and he hasn’t disappointed, posting the best offensive season of his career by wRC+ (a composite mark of 142 between Double-A and Triple-A), and destroying lefties the whole way through, as his 1.001 OPS vs. them last season and his 1.104 OPS vs. them this season will attest.
Before anyone laments a lack of ability to hit righties, fear not; it exists. DeLuca has not posted a sub-.800 OPS against righties in the last three years, and this year it’s all the way up to .915. But, with the outfield situation being what it is, from the outset he will have one major job: to feast on lefties.
If you have watched any Dodger baseball for the past … I dunno, decade? It’s easy to lose track of time in lefty purgatory, but however long it has been, you have seen the Dodgers inexplicably carved by lefties hucking poo. It’s a weakness, one that DeLuca is well-suited to help alleviate.
DeLuca will likely be asked to mainly patrol left field, a spot in which he has played 80 games at the minor league level. However, he has played all three spots extensively, clocking in as plus in both left and right, and he can acquit himself decently in a pinch in center. He also possesses a solid average arm, with his throws typically being on a lower trajectory through the cutoff man, possessing a rather true flight thanks to a fundamentally sound, over the top release from his crow hops:
To round out the package, DeLuca has stolen a total of 58 bases in the minors and was caught stealing just 5 times, giving him a success rate of 92.1%. Yeah, the Dodgers, somehow, just have guys like this hanging out in OKC.
There are some areas of DeLuca’s game that could still stand to be polished. Pitch selection can get away from him at times, and he has been susceptible to changeups from lefties, whiffing on them at a rate (28.6%) twice as high as his second-greatest susceptibility at Triple-A this year. It’s a small sample, but it has proven to be an effective foil, and if I know it, he knows it, and everyone in the league knows it.
As far as playing time, it would come as no surprise for the Dodgers to deploy at least some matchup optimization with him, but these are small potatoes — he is a defensive plus who should help ensure Austin Barnes gets fewer pinch-hitting opportunities in the bottom of the 9th and that David Peralta almost never sees a lefty in an important spot again. That’s valuable.
Welcome Jonny, now give ’em hell.