Agoura High’s Jonny DeLuca is poised to complete journey from Dodgers fan to starter

Photo of Dodgers outfielder Jonny DeLuca.
Dodgers outfielder Jonny DeLuca is expected to make his debut against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday in Cincinnati.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)
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A big league promotion that caught Jonny DeLuca by surprise last weekend came as no shock to the Dodgers outfielder’s former coach at Agoura High.

Anthony Chevrier saw this coming nearly a decade ago, when DeLuca was a 5-foot-9, 165-pound wisp of a freshman who started in right field and hit ninth for a 2014 varsity team that sent 10 players to Division I programs.

“I remember speaking to Jonny and his father when he was a freshman and I said, ‘Man, you’re gonna play in the big leagues one day,’ ” Chevrier said. “His dad kind of giggled, but you could just tell. The physical tools, the intangibles, the decision-making skills were there. He was the complete package.”


Nine years later, DeLuca, now 6feet and 205 pounds, with sandy blond locks, a mustache and a hoop earring — more on that later — reached Dodger Stadium on Sunday, and he’s expected to make his major league debut against Cincinnati Reds left-hander Brandon Williamson in Great American Ball Park on Wednesday night.

But there was no guarantee DeLuca would arrive at this destination, and very little expectation among those who followed his career through college that he could.

“I can’t tell you how many scouts looked at him and said, ‘Oh, he’s not very projectable, he’s only 5-11, he’s reached his limit,’ ” Chevrier said. “I thought he was going to be special. He packs a big punch offensively, defensively and on the basepaths.”

A standout sprinter and long jumper and speedy leadoff man for most of his high school career, DeLuca was a 39th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2017. He opted to play college ball at Oregon, where the switch-hitter batted a combined .226 with a .650 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 11 homers and 72 RBIs in 2018 and 2019.

Freddie Freeman’s grand slam gave Dodgers an 8-3 lead, but they didn’t hold on to it as Cincinnati rallies to win first game of series.

June 6, 2023

The Dodgers liked DeLuca’s athleticism enough to draft him in the 25th round and sign him for $300,000 in 2019, but it would be three years before DeLuca cracked an MLB Pipeline or Baseball America list of the organization’s top 30 prospects.

DeLuca scrapped switch-hitting after he was drafted to focus on his right-handed swing. He hit .273 with a .726 OPS and one homer in 26 Arizona rookie league games in 2019.


The 2020 minor league season was wiped out by COVID-19, but DeLuca used the time to work extensively with private hitting coaches Craig Wallenbrock and Doug Latta, who helped DeLuca tap into his tremendous lower-body strength and develop a more functional, efficient, powerful and repeatable swing.

DeLuca hit .264 with an .867 OPS, 22 homers and 64 RBIs in 101 games for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga and Great Lakes in 2021 and .260 with an .888 OPS, 25 homers and 71 RBIs in 98 games for Great Lakes and double-A Tulsa in 2022, earning a 40-man roster spot — and protection from the Rule 5 draft — last winter.

“A lot of people talk about [bat] path and upper body and where your hands are, which is all really important stuff,” DeLuca, 24, said. “But the lower body, once I locked in on that, I was able to unlock a lot of the power. Being grounded, being in a consistent spot where I land, that’s the foundation of the swing.”

DeLuca hit .292 with a .953 OPS, 14 homers and 37 RBIs in 49 games for Tulsa and triple-A Oklahoma City this season with improved plate discipline — he had 38 strikeouts and 21 walks in 195 at-bats. But when he was called into triple-A manager Travis Barbary’s office Saturday, he thought it was to inform him he’d take Sunday off.

“I thought he was going to be special. He packs a big punch offensively, defensively and on the basepaths.”

— Agoura Hills High School baseball coach Anthony Chevrier

He did eventually get Sunday off … in Los Angeles. DeLuca was called up to replace reserve outfielder Trayce Thompson, who suffered a left oblique strain and will be out at least a month. DeLuca caught an early flight to LAX and was on the bench for the series finale against the New York Yankees.


“It really caught me by surprise,” said DeLuca, who grew up a Dodgers fan and listed Clayton Kershaw — the first teammate he spoke to Sunday— and Manny Ramirez as his favorite players. “Everyone here says it happens super quick, but you don’t really believe it until it’s actually here. It’s pretty surreal, a really cool experience.”

Despite Chevrier’s 2014 prediction, DeLuca, an avid surfer and mountain-bike rider in high school, didn’t develop into a big league prospect until college, where he lifted weights seriously for the first time and added 30 pounds to his compact, sturdy frame while maintaining his speed and agility.

The surplus strength, melded with his mastery of biomechanics and increased exposure to professional pitching, put DeLuca on a faster track to the major leagues.

“The swing is an art to me, just understanding how my body is moving,” DeLuca said. “There’s so many different intricacies in it. So learning that, how pitchers are throwing, my body … that’s a really fun part of the game for me, breaking down mechanics and so many different levels of the game.”

“He’s probably one of the strongest guys in the organization as far as the lower half.”

— Dodgers manager Dave Roberts

DeLuca will likely play left field or center field against left-handed pitchers, and his speed — he was successful on 58 of 63 stolen-base attempts in 274 minor league games — could be useful off the bench.


“He’s a baseball player,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s that old-school, gritty, grinder type. He’s a really good defender at all three [outfield spots] and can really run. He’s probably one of the strongest guys in the organization as far as the lower half.”

DeLuca’s upper half has game, too, as Roberts noted when he ribbed DeLuca about the hoop in his left ear Sunday.

“I had a [stud earring] a long time ago, back in 1990 — I’m sure there are pictures, but I won’t be revisiting that,” said Roberts, the former outfielder. “So when I saw the hoop, I had to call him out and make a joke about it. There’s a good story about why he got it.”

James Outman and Miguel Vargas have had good and bad moments as starters for the Dodgers, who maintain high hopes for both.

June 6, 2023

Indeed, there is. DeLuca was struggling at Great Lakes last season, hitting .199 with a .710 OPS on June 15, when he told hitting coach Dylan Nasiatka that if he weren’t named Midwest League player of the week the following week, he would get an earring.

“I had to change something, I had to do something,” DeLuca said. “I heated up a little that week, hitting two home runs, but I didn’t get player of the week. So I stuck to my word, went to Claire’s in Midland, Mich., on a Monday and got the earring.”

Silly superstition? Hardly. DeLuca went on a tear, batting .455 (20 for 44) with three homers, 10 doubles, 16 RBIs and 12 runs in his next 12 games.


“I was player of the week for two straight weeks, I got promoted to Tulsa [on July 4] and added to the 40-man roster in the offseason,” DeLuca said. “So it stuck.”

Tiimes staff writer Jack Harris contributed to this report.