NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – It was the day before Mother’s Day and Mets executive Paul DePodesta had a prospect to go see.
But this was no easy drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. DePodesta had quite a haul in front of him – a flight from San Diego to Denver, then a long drive to Wyoming to watch Brandon Nimmo play a weekend doubleheader.
“‘This one better be worth it,’” his wife told him.
“Fortunately, it was,” DePodesta said.
The cash-strapped Mets went a long way to find their first-round draft pick, a center fielder from Cheyenne, Wyo., who didn’t even have a chance to play high school baseball.
Nimmo was selected No. 13 overall Monday night, capping an uncommon rise for an out-of-nowhere — and before draft night, not a top 15 — prospect who could one day go from country bumpkin to city slicker.
Wyoming does not have high school baseball and the state has produced just two draft picks in the past decade, according to Baseball America. The 18-year-old Nimmo plays American Legion ball and was selected MVP at a showcase game at Wrigley Field last August.
Still, finding Nimmo was no easy task. He worked out for major league teams in Arizona this spring and became the first player from Wyoming to be chosen in the first round.
The left-handed hitter said he idolized Ken Griffey Jr. growing up. He is considered a fast runner with a good eye and plenty of potential at the plate despite a unique schedule and limited chances to play.
MLB Network said Nimmo practiced in a barn behind his house that contains a batting cage and pitching machine.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound outfielder was batting .569 with two homers and 34 RBIs in 22 American Legion games for Post 6 through Sunday. He also had four triples, 13 doubles and 14 stolen bases. The team’s schedule runs through the American Legion World Series, which is Aug. 12-16 in Shelby, NC.
The Mets said Baseball America ranked Nimmo as the second-best high school athlete in the draft, and the second-best pure high school hitter.
Still, the pick is certainly a gamble by the Mets and their new front-office regime, led by DePodesta, general manager Sandy Alderson and amateur scouting director Chad MacDonald.
“I think we were ideally looking for a position player,” said DePodesta, in his first year as New York’s vice president of player development and amateur scouting. “This draft is definitely deep in college pitching, but there were only a few impact bats and if we were going to get one of them we were going to take him high.”
MacDonald said Nimmo brings the same risks as any high school hitter who needs to prove he can hit better pitching at the professional level. But DePodesta said Nimmo has faced good competition in Wyoming that would be comparable to high schools in South Carolina or other fertile areas.
“We’ve actually seen a lot of this player,” DePodesta said on a conference call. “They play some pretty good baseball up there.”
MacDonald said Nimmo has an athletic body and is a “speed-hit combo” player with a “really good swing” who can stay in center field as a pro.
“A middle-of-the-field guy who can hit with power. That’s what we like,” MacDonald said, adding that probably eight to 10 Mets scouts saw Nimmo play over the course of the year. “We had guys at every game.
“We do think he has some advanced skills,” MacDonald added. “We weren’t interested in making the safest pick. We were interested in making the pick that had the best chance to make the biggest impact.”
DePodesta stayed over in Wyoming that one night and then traveled back home to San Diego on Mother’s Day. Obviously, he was impressed with what he saw in Nimmo, who attended East High School in Cheyenne.
Nimmo tore his right ACL playing football as a junior in 2009 and played with a brace on his knee most of the time last summer, according to Baseball America.
“I think he has an advanced feel for the strike zone,” DePodesta said. “We’ll certainly be emotionally invested in this draft.”
Next, the Mets need to sign Nimmo – and that might not be so easy. The club’s owners are facing a $1 billion lawsuit because of their business with Bernard Madoff, and Fred Wilpon told Sports Illustrated recently that his team is “bleeding cash” and could lose up to $70 million this year.
Nimmo has committed to play college ball at Arkansas, a top program.
“He’s passionate about playing,” DePodesta said. “We’ll let the negotiations play out and we’re confident he’ll be a New York Met.”
With the 44th pick, the Mets selected right-hander Michael Fulmer from Deer Creek High School in Oklahoma.
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