It’s not often when an athlete is compared to two-sport superstar Deion Sanders, but one of them wears a Reno Aces jersey.
Center fielder Ben DeLuzio has been highly regarded for his speed when he played at Florida State University. Now, he’s darting around the bases for the Aces. He was assigned to Triple-A Reno from Double-A Jackson on July 4.
“Ben DeLuzio has the speed, and it’s off the charts,” Aces manager Chris Cron said. “I think he’s one of the fastest I’ve ever seen. It’s so fun to watch him do what he does because he’s so aggressive and isn’t afraid to take chances. … It spreads throughout the dugout and it’s almost contagious.”
Florida State Seminoles baseball coach Mike Martin echos Cron’s statement.
DeLuzio sprinted 90 yards from first base to home plate in 9.84 seconds, topping Sanders’ Florida State record of 9.9 seconds, Martin said in an interview on FSU’s verified Youtube page in 2016.
The 24-year-old was second on the Double-A Generals with 14 stolen bases. In Reno, DeLuzio started off on a sluggish note. He stole his first base on Thursday against the Iowa Cubs.
DeLuzio went 2-for-6 with an RBI and two runs in the Aces’ 23-8 victory over the Omaha Storm Chasers on Friday at Greater Nevada Field. He ended the contest with a diving grab in center field.
“My speed is something I take pride in, but It’s been rough,” he laughed. “I’ve been thrown out four times so far. … The catchers and pitchers are aware here. I have to learn how to pick and choose my times to steal. At the lower levels, it’s all brute speed where I can just take off.”
DeLuzio’s cheetah-like speed starts with his lanky 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame. His long strides and quickness helps him get a sizeable jump to steal bags or run from first to third base off a bloop single to the outfield. Fans in the stands can’t take their eyes off of DeLuzio for too long before he tacks on a run in the Aces’ favor.
Once DeLuzio gets on base, he develops a quick scouting report on the opposing team’s starting pitcher and catcher.
“I like to decipher what the opposition is doing,” he said. “I try to time the pitcher’s windup from the stretch, whether he’s a slide-step guy or if he picks his leg straight up, that changes things for me. If the catcher has a good pop time, I need to know if I’m confident enough to steal. … From there, I let my legs do the rest. The quicker I can get into that top gear, the better I’ll be.”
DeLuzio’s speed isn’t limited to the base paths, either. He beats out sacrifice bunts and stretches routine singles into doubles. It helps him get a better read on the ball in the outfield.
“(My speed) adds another element to all aspects of the game,” he said. “If I don’t get the best read on the ball, it can help make up for that. … At the plate, I’ve been able to find ways to get hits with my feet.”
Growing up in Orlando, Florida, football was the primary sport in the DeLuzio family. Ben’s father, Don DeLuzio, was an inside linebacker for the University of Colorado. He had control of what sport to watch on the television.
“He definitely made the household more football-oriented,” Ben DeLuzio said. “I remember always watching college football and catching some NFL games here and there. … I never watched a lot of baseball growing up.”
DeLuzio had two pairs of cleats for baseball and football. No matter which sport he preferred, his dad made sure to take his skill levels to new heights.
When DeLuzio put on the pads for First Academy High School, he and his dad developed an off-season workout routine to put on the extra weight for the upcoming football year.
“He’s gone through the same grind I go through, even if it’s different sports,” he said. “He’s always pushed me to take my game to the next level. It was nice to have someone who’s gone through those same things.”
DeLuzio always had his dad by his side, but he eventually needed to make a career decision for himself. The time came by his junior year at First Academy to permanently stick with baseball or football.
In three seasons with the Royals, DeLuzio accumulated 511 all purpose yards as a versatile running back and wide receiver. But he envisioned a brighter future on the diamond.
“I needed to make a choice to do one or the other,” he said. “I came to the decision that if I made it in baseball, I’d have a longer career out of it. That’s the road I’ve been on.
“I grew a love for both sports. Looking back, football was a passion for me. I had to let it go and forget about it. There are times when I say ‘what if?’ But I’m fully content with it.”
The decision paid off handsomely. DeLuzio was drafted in the third round — 80th overall — in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Miami Marlins after batting .423 in his senior season. He attended Florida State instead, turning down a $700,000 signing bonus.
“It was tough to pass on it, but I have no regrets,” he said. “My college experience helped shape me as a player and a person.”
In three seasons with the Seminoles, DeLuzio stole 45 bases. But struggles at the plate and in the field made him go undrafted in the 2016 MLB Draft. He signed a minor league contract with Reno’s parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, that same year.
DeLuzio sped through the Dbacks farm system. He’s jumped two levels since starting in the Arizona League. The outfielder plays every game like it’s his last. He won the Best Hustler award with Double-A Jackson in 2018.
Cron, who served as the Dbacks’ minor league hitting coordinator for five years, has gotten to know Deluzio’s passion for the game on and off the field.
“He’s a stand-up guy no matter where he is,” the manager said. “Him and I’ve had numerous conversations on hitting, running and the game in general. It’s comforting for me to know he’s going to play every game with his heart.”
Deluzio has left track marks on the diamond and the gridiron, but he’s still chasing his dream of making the Major Leagues.
“I just gotta keep working towards my goal,” he said. “I just need to take it one step at a time.”
Westbrook homers twice in Aces’ slugfest win
Jamie Westbrook’s two home runs and five RBIs propelled the Aces to take the first game of the series in whopping fashion.
Westbrook, 24, was assigned to Triple-A Reno on Aug. 1. Since 2018, he has six homers in nine career games with the Aces.
Reno scored in every inning, except the eighth when Storm Chasers right fielder came in to pitch. The Aces have scored a franchise-record 20 or more runs three times this season. Eight different players had at least one RBI.
Kevin Cron launched his career-high 30th homer. He is two round-trippers shy of tying Christian Walker’s single-season record of 32. Cron leads the Pacific Coast League in home runs in 58 games with Reno.
Josh Rojas was 4-for-6 with three RBIs in his Reno debut. Rojas, 25, was involved in a five-player trade that sent former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Grienke to the Houston Astros on July 31.
Reno had 22 hits. Domingo Leyba was 5-for-7 with a double and two RBIs. Alex Young finished a single away from the cycle. The West Fargo, North Dakota native was 3-for-5 with a homer, triple, double and three RBIs. Lucas Herbert was 1-for-5 with three RBIs in his first Triple-A game.
Braden Shipley picked up his third win of the season. He surrendered two earned runs in three innings of relief.
The Aces’ performance didn’t stink. By the seventh inning, a pair of skunks sneaked onto the field from under the center field wall in the sixth inning to make an appearance for the 6,409 fans in attendance.
Tomás returns to Reno: Yasmany Tomás was optioned from Arizona to Triple-A Reno on Thursday. The Havana, Cuba native was 0-for-6 in four games with the Dbacks.
Lots of Fun: The Reno Aces partnered with Amplify Life for the eighth consecutive season to host the annual Camp Lotsafun scrimmage with the Aces players pre-game at Greater Nevada Field. This event provides a unique community experience that allows campers to join the Aces on the field. Additionally, each camper received a complimentary ticket to the game.
Notes: Joel Payamps, Marc Rzepczynski and Kevin Ginkel allowed just one hit in Thursday’s 3-1 victory over the Iowa Cubs. The only time in franchise history this occurred was on Aug. 9, 2009 when Payamps was just 15 years old. …. The Aces are 48-40 when scoring four or more runs this season.
On Deck: Reno, 51-60 faces Omaha for game two of the four-game series at 7:05 p.m. at Greater Nevada Field. Riley Smith is expected to take the hill for the Aces. Southpaw Jake Kalish is the probable starting pitcher for the Storm Chasers.