High Upside Potential?
There seems to be this weird post-hoc criticism of the Brandon Nimmo pick — the Mets took him in the first round last year — lately. I see a decent number of Mets fans saying the Mets should have taken Matt Barnes, even though Barnes's stock was dropping coming into the 2011 draft. It’s not even like he was taken right after Nimmo; instead, he fell all the way to the Red Sox at 19. As a polished college arm he is probably only a year or so away and has spent 2012 putting up video game numbers across two A-ball levels. Still, he’s more likely a good mid-rotation arm than a future ace. But I’m digressing (shocker). Sure, it’s possible Nimmo will bust, but we’ve been clamoring for high-ceiling talent in the system for a while, and Nimmo is certainly that type of prospect.
He only played on Saturday and Sunday last weekend, getting Friday off while mired in a 2-for-20 slump, including a three-game stretch where had struck out seven times in twelve plate appearances. He got off to a good start on Saturday, though, slapping a change that stayed up into right-center. He had been fooled on a first pitch change-up in that same at-bat, and while the second one wasn’t as sharp, Nimmo did a good job staying back on the pitch and letting his quick wrists do the work. I really like his swing; he generates a lot of bat speed and everything is a bit quieter now than it was in his pre-draft scouting videos. The Hudson Valley southpaws gave him some trouble, and he especially had issues with their sliders. That's not particularly surprising. The grand slam he hit got a lot of press, and for me the most impressive part was his willingness to go after a first-pitch fastball after the two batters in front of him had worked walks to load the bases. A lot has been made of his walk rate and whether it suggested too much passivity on Nimmo's part, but in that at-bat he was aggressive with a fastball early in the count.
As for whether the home runs will become a trend? Well, the power projection with Nimmo is the real question. He has some bat speed, but a lot of that is generated with his quick wrists. He has a frame that could fill out some more as well. I think the power will come eventually, but as Toby Hyde mentioned, it’s unlikely to show up in the numbers at Brooklyn or Savannah. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus was at Saturday's game and compared Nimmo’s physical tools to Hunter Pence's. (Dave Gershman has made this comp as well) I think that’s a reasonable comp for his power ceiling (both Parks and Gershman know a lot more about this than I do, so it’s always a good idea to defer to them). Also, they both are kind of gangly and wear high socks, so there's that.
Speed? Yeah, Nimmo has it. That first inning single on Saturday would have been a hustle double if the center fielder hadn’t cut it off where he did. Nimmo also beat out a pretty routine double play ball on Sunday. His speed was also on display in the SNY game Monday night when he easily beat out a slow chopper to the second baseman. Speed is his clear current plus tool. How that will change as he ages is another question, but it's tough to predict how much a 19-year-old will fill out. Nimmo certainly could add some bulk to his 6'3" frame.
Defensively, Nimmo didn’t get tested too much in center field over the two games I saw, as the Cyclones' pitching staff had a nasty habit of not allowing too many balls in play and even fewer out of the infield. He did get turned around going back on a ball at Hudson Valley, but he kept his composure and made the play with a minimum of fuss. His speed will make up for any deficiencies in jumps or route-running, but he generally looked confident and comfortable in center field. I didn’t get to see him unleash any throws, but the arm is generally rated as average to above-average.
This all probably makes Nimmo sound like he's behind shortstop Phillip Evans as a prospect, but that simply isn't the case. I said in the Farm System Report that Evans was the best player on the field in terms of current in-game skills, but the gap between what Nimmo is and what he can be is far greater than the gap for Evans. If Nimmo turns into a left-handed Hunter Pence that can play center field (which, granted, is about a 95th percentile outcome here, i.e., not terribly likely), that's a guy who makes a few All-Star teams. Now, the more likely outcome is that he turns into an everyday center fielder with some pop and plenty of strikeouts. He's risky, as any potential five-tool prep pick is, but by all reports he's a hard-worker and he already has better pitch recognition than some New York Penn League umpires. We're still mostly in the dreaming stage with Nimmo at this point, but I saw enough in his current game to be comfortable confirming his ranking as a Top 5 prospect in the Mets system.