Last night in Savannah, Mets minor league center fielder Brandon Nimmo went 3 for 4, capping off his solid night with a booming eighth inning home run out of Historic Grayson Stadium. It was the kind of game you would expect from a former first round draft pick playing in low A ball. Except it hasn’t been the routine. Not even close.
It’s been a rough season for the former Wyoming standout. After streaking to a .322 batting average in the month of April, Nimmo has battled nagging hand injuries and staggeringly poor play to find himself fielding a mediocre .249 average and .709 OPS entering play Monday. Those numbers are the not the scary part; Nimmo is only 20 and, not having played high school baseball, was expected to take a while to develop. The frightening part for fans and the organization has been a strikeout rate that would make Adam Dunn cringe.
Forecasters of potential batting average in the big leagues, strikeout rates have long been used as barometers of success in the minors. This is bad news for Nimmo, who ranks 15th in the SAL with 108 strikeouts, despite having fewer at bats than any other hitter in the top 30. He owns a 30% strikeout rate overall and his 33% rate since the end of April is worse than such whiffing kings as Mike Napoli, Mark Reynolds, and Dan Uggla.
As evidenced by the aforementioned hitters’ power numbers, the only way to maintain such astronomical rates, and the inevitably low batting averages that they induce, while still being a productive player is to hit the long ball. Considering that Nimmo has only gone yard twice all year, and that even the most optimistic of scouts only peg him as a future 15-25 home run hitter, Brandon will have to cut down on the strikeouts if he is to become a major league regular.
Yet improvement may be just on the horizon. Nimmo suffered a bruised hand that sent him to the disabled list back on April 29th, and while he spent a month rehabbing it before returning, there may still be lingering effects. As Toby Hyde of Mets Minor League Blog notes, the weakened hands could prevent Nimmo from turning on the ball, allowing pitchers to strike him out on fastballs inside.
As his hand heals, his strikeout numbers should decrease, and his hitting improve. Last night’s game was his best offensive performance of the year and in just these past ten days, a healthier Nimmo has shown flashes of his immense talent, walking 13 times en route to .457 on base percentage and an .881 OPS.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that Brandon is still very young and very raw. The Mets understood that his development would take years when they handed him 2 million dollars out of the first round in 2011. They also understood that like all unpolished prep hitters, Nimmo was a gamble who could turn into a perennial all star but could also never make it out of A ball.