Given how the 2018 season turned out, it’s hard to believe Brandon Nimmo was optioned to Triple-A just ten games into the year. The move followed Michael Conforto’s return from shoulder surgery, which resulted in fewer playing opportunities for the young outfielder. Thankfully, Nimmo was called back up three days later and left no doubt that he deserved a spot on the roster, developing into the team’s most reliable offensive threat while flashing his brilliant and infectious smile.
Drafted thirteenth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, Nimmo — whom MLB Pipeline ranked as the number five prospect in the farm system heading into the 2016 season — appeared in 101 games for the New York Mets (primarily off the bench) prior to 2018. When the Mets dealt Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson in August 2017, Nimmo saw his first chance to start everyday and capitalized on the opportunity. Over the season’s final 49 games, he posted an impressive 119 wRC+ and .804 OPS. He exhibited excellent plate discipline (18.5% O-Swing%) and a knack for getting on base, with a 15.1% walk rate and a .373 on-base percentage in 186 plate appearances.
Even with Nimmo, the Mets still felt it necessary to bring back Bruce, which left them with an abundance of outfielders and seemingly no room for the promising 24-year-old. With Conforto patrolling center field and Yoenis Cespedes and Bruce anchoring the corners, Nimmo was the odd-man out despite getting off to a hot start in 2018 (.333/.600/.444, 212 wRC+ in six games). After returning from Las Vegas, Nimmo again found himself on the bench and started just four of the team’s next 18 games. Even with the sporadic playing time, he posted a 1.008 OPS and a 184 wRC+ in 46 plate appearances, while walking at a similar rate (15.2%) to his 2017 numbers. In limited action, Nimmo continued to improve at the plate and left them with little choice but to pencil his name into the lineup.
When Cespedes and Juan Lagares saw their seasons derailed by injuries in May, Nimmo broke into the starting lineup for good. From May 13 through June 23, he was one of the best hitters in the National League while the team was struggling to find any sort of offensive identity. Nimmo played every day during this stretch and hit 11 home runs while slashing .301/.389/.623 with a .322 ISO and a 176 wRC+. He primarily served as the team’s lead-off hitter and contributed 12 multi-hit games while reaching base in 30 of 38 games. On June 18, he enjoyed his second career multi-home run game (and second career four-hit game) in a road victory against the Colorado Rockies.
At that point in the season, Nimmo ranked first in the National League in wRC+ (167), second in ISO (.289), and fourth in on-base percentage (.400) and OPS (.974). Despite this impressive resume, he was left off the All-Star game ballot and failed to make it to the Midsummer Classic. As a consolation prize, Nimmo connected on his first career walk-off home run in the tenth inning in a 3-0 win against the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the break.
Nimmo picked up where he left off in the second half of the season. From July 20 through August 31, he slashed .313/.426/.531 in 27 games with a .219 ISO and a 167 wRC+. While he saw a slight decline in his power during this period (two home runs), he continued to get on base at a remarkable pace. Nimmo hit a brief road block when he missed 11 games with a bone bruise on his left index finger which he suffered after being hit by a pitch (one of the league-leading 22 HBP he endured in 2018). Nimmo showcased his superior plate discipline in September by drawing 29 walks in 27 games and finishing the month with a 26.6% walk rate and a .468 on-base percentage.
Nimmo finished the year with a .263/.404/.483 slash line in 140 games to go along with a .219 ISO, a 149 wRC+, and a 4.5 fWAR. Among the 66 National League batters with at least 500 plate appearances, Nimmo ranked second only to National League MVP candidate Christian Yelich in wRC+ while finishing second in on-base percentage, sixth in walk rate (15.0%), twelfth in fWAR, and seventeenth in ISO. He also ranked third in the National League with a 19.7% O-Swing%, falling behind only Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen. While his line drive rate dipped slightly from 2017 (from 24.4% to 21.6%), he improved his Hard% (from 35.0% to 37.2%), producing more quality contact than the previous year.
In his 2016 MLB Pipeline scouting report, Nimmo was described as a player with “an advanced knowledge of the strike zone” and someone who could “hit for average” and be a “solid defender” while providing below-average power for a corner outfielder. In examining his 2018 contributions, these characterizations mostly rang true. Nimmo grew into a player that can easily take over the leadoff spot in the lineup, or could even be trusted in a more traditional run-producing spot further down in the order, while also providing dependable outfield defense.
There is no doubt that Nimmo should be starting for the Mets next year. With Cespedes’s return date up in the air, Lagares recovering from another injury setback, and the club determined to make Bruce at first base a thing, Nimmo will likely be stationed in a corner outfield spot for the foreseeable future. Given the great strides he made in 2018, he has certainly earned that right, and it’s safe to say the sky is the limit for Nimmo.