The last time Brandon Nimmo was gaining headlines this offseason, it was because of the Mets refusal to trade him as a part of a deal for either Andrew McCutchen or Josh Harrison.
Now three weeks into spring training and Nimmo is grabbing attention with his bat thanks to a hot start to spring training has made him a favorite for the team’s lead-off role come Opening Day.
Had the Mets been fully healthy, his nice start wouldn’t have mattered considering the team’s outfield was set with Yoenis Cespedes in left, Michael Conforto in center and Jay Bruce in right. But Conforto’s continued recovery from a dislocated shoulder has created an opening for the starting center field job, a role Nimmo is running away with considering Juan Lagares has been bothered by hamstring issues.
In his first 18 at-bats of spring, the 24-year-old was batting .389 with a .455 on-base percentage, two home runs and five RBI. He showed off his power on Monday against the Detroit Tigers, taking the first pitch he saw out over the right-center field wall for a lead-off round-tripper.
While the power is promising, the most important number might be his on-base percentage. Last year, New York was below the major-league average with a .320 mark and among qualifying batters, Conforto and Asdrubal Cabrera were the only Mets to have an on-base mark of over .350.
It left the team without a true lead-off man to set the table for an offense predicated on the long ball. Despite ranking seventh in the majors with 224 home runs, the Mets were 18th with 4.54 runs per game.
With Conforto sidelined until at least May 1, Nimmo will have almost five weeks to prove to the Mets that he should continue receiving regular playing time at the major-league level. Something he’s been unable to do in his first two MLB stints. Much of that had to do with the logjam of outfielders within the roster, allowing Nimmo to play only when the injury bug hit.
With a patient approach at the plate, Nimmo could develop into the Mets answer at the top of the order if he continues to impress new manager Mickey Callaway.
“He’s a patient hitter. He’s always been that,” Callaway said via Dan Martin of the New York Post. “But now it looks like he’s attacking that pitch when he gets it, too. Pitchers know he’s gonna be patient and if they groove one, now he’s gonna attack it. It becomes a dangerous combination.”
All this might be taken with a grain of salt considering that it’s only spring training. Anyone who has regularly watched baseball has been told at some point in their lives not to take much stock in preseason given the dilution of talent.
But Nimmo has been putting up these numbers against solid pitching. According to Baseball-Reference.com‘s quality of opposing pitching’s metric, which ranks from 1-to-10 — 1 being rookie ball and 10 being a “full-time major leaguer” — Nimmo has faced a combination of pitchers averaging a marking of 8.0. Only eight players across the majors with as many or more than Nimmo’s 22 plate appearances have faced a better quality of pitching this spring training
Should New York’s offense start firing on all cylinders with Nimmo, it would force Callaway to find a way to keep the Wyoming native in the lineup upon Conforto’s return.
One way to do that is by giving Jay Bruce days at first base to relieve Adrian Gonzalez, should Dominic Smith start the year in triple-A. Should Gonzalez struggle on his league-minimum deal, the Mets could move Bruce to first full time and give Nimmo the starting job in right field.