With the rosters having been expanded to start the 2020 season, the Mets decided to break camp with Andres Gimenez on the opening day roster. The second-best prospect in the Mets’ system heading into the season, Gimenez figures to primarily serve as a late-defensive replacement for Robinson Cano at second base, and will probably do his fair share of pinch running. While his defensive abilities at the shortstop should allow him to contribute positively from the start, his offensive game is still a work in progress. Known as more of a contact hitter who relied on stellar hand-eye coordination and bat control to hit for a high average throughout his time in the low minors, Gimenez started his 2019 season in the Eastern League with a revamped swing designed to help him pull the ball more and add more power to his game with mixed results. At age the young age of 21 and having never played above Double-A, Gimenez will be tasked with contributing in potentially meaningful games at the big league level. Fortunately for the young shortstop, this is not the first time he’s been challenged to play at a higher level than he’s accustomed to.
Among the best prospects available in the 2015-2016 International Free Agent signing period, along with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Juan Soto, Gimenez signed with the Mets for $1.2 million and spent the 2016 season in the Dominican Summer League. He hit .350/.469/.523 for the DSL Mets in 275 plate appearances, and continued to rake during extended spring training after coming stateside to start 2017. His performance in the complex earned him an early promotion to the full season Columbia Fireflies of the South Atlantic League, despite being among the youngest players in the league and having never played against domestic short season competition. With Columbia, Gimenez managed to hold his own against significantly older competition, hitting a slightly above average .265/.346/.349 in 399 plate appearances, and playing excellent defense at shortstop.
The Mets continued to push him with an aggressive assignment to the St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League in 2018, where he would again find himself among the youngest players in the league at age 19. After an offseason of the same lower body workouts that helped Amed Rosario develop into a plus runner, Gimenez arrived with St. Lucie in significantly better shape than he was as a scrawny 18 year old the year prior. Gimenez thrived against Advanced-A arms, hitting a well above average .282/.348/.432 in 351 plate appearances with a 124 wRC+. His performance earned him a late season promotion to Double-A Binghamton, where he held again held his own against significantly older competition in the Eastern League, and hit an almost exactly league average .277/.344/.358 in 153 plate appearances, despite being over five years younger than the average player in the league that season. He also began to develop a reputation as a base stealing threat, swiping 28 bases in 39 attempts in the FSL, and 38 stolen bases in 52 attempt between St. Lucie and Binghamton.
There was chatter prior to last season that Gimenez could debut in the big leagues during the season if things went particularly well, but Gimenez returned to the Eastern League to start the 2019 season, and struggled for most of the season there. He debuted a number of changes in his swing during 2019, including an exaggerated leg-kick and a steeper bat path both designed to help him add loft and pull-side power to his swing. The stomp and lift approach generally did not help him significantly improve. While he did hit a career high nine home runs, his batting average and on-base percentage both fell to career lows, with Gimenez hitting just .250/.309/.387 in 479 plate appearances. It was not the kind of performance you hope for from a top prospect who is playing at a level he’s already played at, but Gimenez did, once again, hold his own to say the very least, putting up a roughly league average line while again playing against significantly older competition. Instead of potentially being discussed as a September call-up, Gimenez reported to the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League following the end of the 2019 Eastern League season. Gimenez faired much better with the Scorpions than he had with the Rumble Ponies, and won the AFL batting titles while hitting .371/.413/.586 in 75 plate appearances. His league-leading .999 OPS and characteristically excellent shortstop defense helped earn him a place on the 2019 All-AFL team.
At this stage in his development Gimenez is a much better defender than he is a hitter. Even as an 18 year old in the South Atlantic League, Gimenez has shown a level of polish and consistency at the shortstop position that point towards potentially developing into an impact defender at the position. His excellent instincts and well above average to plus speed help him cover a ton of ground, and he has more than enough arm strength to make plays out of most of the balls he gets to. His offensive game is a little further behind his defense. While there were plenty of reports that his swing looked a little better coming out the AFL, he still needs to prove that the swing changes will work against big league pitching without the benefit of hitting against pitchers with big league service time in Triple-A. While it’s certainly a big ask of the young shortstop, he’s risen to challenges like this before.