Even now, with Bruce’s departure, there would seem to be four outfielders ahead of Nimmo on the Mets’ depth chart: Yoenis Cespedes; Michael Conforto; Juan Lagares, who is now returning after missing nearly two months with a broken thumb; and Curtis Granderson, who is 36 and in the final season of a four-year, $60 million deal and is a near certainty not to be back in Queens in 2018.
The Mets may be hoping to trade Granderson, which would surely open up more room for Nimmo to get a sustained audition, but that has not happened yet, and every day that Granderson plays is one Nimmo that does not.
Clearly, the Mets’ future belongs to players like Amed Rosario, who was called up from Class AAA on Aug. 1 and is now the everyday shortstop, and Dominic Smith, their first baseman of the future and now a Met as well.
Nimmo? He is a level below those prospects, a 6-foot-3-inch outfielder who had a respectable .280 batting average in the minor leagues, but without a lot of power. He hit well for the Mets in his limited chances last season, and he has done the same this year. But it is not clear if he can play center field, his original position, on a major league level, or how much he will hit if he does play regularly.
Without a high school baseball career to use as a reference, the Mets scouted Nimmo in American Legion ball, where, as a 17-year-old, he batted .448, with 15 home runs and 34 stolen bases, in 70 games.
“In the past, it’s possible that a kid like this could slip through the cracks unnoticed,” Mets Assistant General Manager John Ricco said. “But now, with social media and all the parents posting videos on the internet, it’s pretty hard these days for a player to go undiscovered. There’s so many eyeballs on everyone these days. If a guy has talent, we’re going to find it.”
Still, for a player like Nimmo to work his way up to become a first-round draft pick — he was selected 13th over all, ahead of Sonny Gray, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kolten Wong, Michael Fulmer and Jose Fernandez — under those circumstances may be even more impressive.
“It sure doesn’t happen all that often,” Ricco said. But in this instance, it happened in the first draft overseen by Sandy Alderson in his role as the Mets’ general manager. That might suggest that Alderson, before it is too late, would like to see if Nimmo can validate his decision to take him in first round.
Last season, Nimmo batted .274, with one home run and six runs batted in, in his first 73 major league at-bats. This season, Nimmo was injured in the World Baseball Classic while playing for Italy and started the regular season slowly. He was called up from Class AAA Las Vegas when Lagares was injured, but then he was derailed temporarily by a partly collapsed lung.
So far, his 2017 season with the Mets consists of 26 at-bats, 14 as a pinch-hitter, and a .308 batting average. He has started only three games, and none since July 4, when he went 3 for 4 in an 11-4 loss to the Washington Nationals.
“Honestly, I know the situation in front of me,” Nimmo said this past week. “There’s a lot of good outfielders that we’ve had come in, and I’m just trying to use them as mentors right now. I’m just embracing the role that I play, which is to be ready whenever my name is called.”
But Nimmo acknowledged the frustration of going from being an everyday player in the minor leagues to an occasional player in the majors.
“Yeah, it is difficult,” he said. “Everybody wants to play every day and be that guy, but you got to take your opportunities when you can.’’
Mets Manager Terry Collins, when asked about Nimmo, suggested that the Mets already had a good sense of what he can do.
“We’ve seen enough to know what we got,’’ he said.
Collins added that Nimmo “had the ability to play all over’’ the outfield.
In some ways, it seemed like a mixed endorsement, a way of implying that the Mets think Nimmo might be good enough to be a backup outfielder on the team, but no more than that. It would be up to Nimmo to prove that assessment wrong, to play better than expected.
But first, of course, he has to play.
“I can’t control any of this,” Nimmo said. “If I start fretting and worrying about things I can’t control, I’m going to go crazy.”
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