With the trades of Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson and season-ending injuries to Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Nimmo is assured of getting a long look in the Mets’ outfield for the rest of the year.
Nimmo already has come a long way from “a skinny little kid from Wyoming,” as manager Terry Collins said recently.
But he’s no sure thing to be the impact player the Mets hoped for when they drafted the 18-year-old with the 13th overall pick in 2011 out of Cheyenne East High School.
Wyoming did not have high school baseball, so Nimmo played American Legion ball. To say he was a project would be an understatement.
“We weren’t interested in making the safest pick,” Mets vice president of player development Paul DePodesta said at the time. “We were interested in the pick that could have the most impact.”
Hasn’t happened yet. But that doesn’t mean it can’t.
“He’s gotten big and strong,” Collins said. “He’s always had the plate discipline that certainly we like here. I think you’re seeing a guy that’s learning how to handle the bat a little better. I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a big power guy.”
Nimmo was the first draft pick of the Sandy Alderson era. As he tries to establish himself as not only a major-leaguer but someone the Mets could see as a part-time regular in 2018 — perhaps in a centerfield platoon with Juan Lagares — here’s a look back at that 2011 draft and some of the players the Mets passed up to go for their project.
“That draft class was a special one,” Nimmo said recently. “Full of great players, and it’s fun to be a part of that.”
Most notable from that class was the player picked right after Nimmo. The Marlins selected righthanded pitcher Jose Fernandez, and he went on to make the majors in 2013 and win the NL Rookie of the Year award.
Fernandez became one of the best pitchers in baseball and was a two-time All-Star. He died in a boating accident Sept. 25, 2016, at the age of 24.
Five other first-rounders have become All-Stars: pitcher Gerrit Cole of the Pirates (first overall), shortstop Francisco Lindor of the Indians (eighth), outfielder George Springer of the Astros (11th) and two players the Mets could have selected: pitcher Sonny Gray (18th overall by the A’s, now with the Yankees) and second baseman Joe Panik of the Giants (29th overall out of St. John’s).
The truth is, most of the players picked in the first round after Nimmo have not made that much of an impact yet. Only one other outfielder went later in the round: Mikie Mahtook, who was picked 31st by the Rays and now is with the Tigers.
The fifth overall pick was outfielder Bubba Starling, who went to the Royals. Starling has not yet made the majors. So picking outfielders in the draft is not an exact science, to be sure.
The best outfielder selected in that draft wasn’t even an outfielder at the time. The Red Sox took high school shortstop Mookie Betts with the 172nd overall pick in the fifth round and later converted him to the outfield.
Wouldn’t it have been nice to have another Mookie on the Mets? But a lot of other teams passed on Betts, too.
The Red Sox also snapped up outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. with the 40th overall pick. So that’s two-thirds of their current outfield — a pretty good haul for one draft.
Not that the Mets came away empty in 2011. They drafted pitcher Michael Fulmer 44th and turned him into Cespedes in a 2015 trade. Cespedes led the Mets to the World Series that year.
The Mets also picked pitchers Robert Gsellman (13th round), Seth Lugo (34th) and Chasen Bradford (35th) and outfielder Travis Taijeron (18th), all of whom are on the current big-league roster.
Nimmo was supposed to be the star of that class for the Mets. So far, it hasn’t worked out the way he or the team envisioned it when then-commissioner Bud Selig announced his name.
“I knew that the Mets were interested, but we didn’t know how interested,” Nimmo said. “Bud Selig came up and called my name, the name flashed across the bottom of the TV screen, and we all just jumped up in the air and started screaming and shouting and hugging each other. It was kind of like winning the biggest game of your life. Up to that point. It was like a dream come true and the start of another dream.”