Salt Lake City, Utah —— Ever since Brandon Nimmo was a little kid, his life has been centered on sports. Whether it be baseball and football outside, or simply watching whatever sporting event was on ESPN, he was always tuned in. The Nimmo household watched more games than a Denver sports bar, with the TV consistently fixed on Colorado sports.
“My dad grew up with a love for baseball, and the Rockies were always on our TV,” the New York Mets prospect told Baseball Census prior to a Triple-A game for his Las Vegas 51s earlier this month on the road against the Salt Lake Bees. “Denver was an hour and a half from us, so the Broncos and Rockies were always on TV. My dad was a big sports enthusiast, and we always watched ESPN at night. That’s kind of how I was raised. My dad wrestled in college in Sterling, Colorado, my parents were from La Junta, Colorado, little town of 10,000 people. So Denver was always in our house.”
Growing up a baseball fan just north of the border in Cheyenne, Wyoming made Nimmo a natural Colorado Rockies fan from day one. Fortunately, he had some pretty good big league talent to emulate.
“I watched a lot of Todd Helton,” Nimmo remembered. “I luckily got to see the back end of his career. I always tried to emulate his swing. Obviously, I don’t have Todd Helton’s swing, but just the way he could drive the ball the other way so well, he was such a complete hitter. I enjoyed how solid of a hitter he was. Troy Tulowitzki got drafted towards the middle of my high school career, so I looked up to him, and [Carlos Gonzalez], too.”
The Rockies haven’t always had a successful franchise, but during those late 2000s years when they made the playoffs, Nimmo was glued to their games. And he did more than just watch his favorite team succeed—he always took something personal from it.
“I got to see those guys play and make it to the World Series [in 2007],” Nimmo recalled. “I watched those guys and tried to emulate them the best I could, and play the game hard the way they did.”
Despite having a big league club to watch regularly, and growing up surrounded by sports at home, the odds have been against Nimmo to make something of himself in this realm from the start. Only 15 Wyoming-born men had ever played Major League Baseball, and Brandon’s cold-weather upbringing was a world away from the always-sunny baseball factories of southern California, Arizona, and Florida. His brother Bryce did play Division I baseball for the University of Nebraska‘s well-regarded program, though, so there was at least some kind of path for Brandon out of Cheyenne East High School.
Although technically, Brandon Nimmo never played for Cheyenne East High School. He never played high school baseball at all. The state of Wyoming doesn’t sponsor the sport, citing weather issues and a general lack of available teams. But he played summer ball—Cheyenne American Legion Post 6—and his Legion coach often traveled the team around the region to places like Denver and Rapid City, South Dakota to compete against larger programs. And those travel ball opportunities, coupled with a good crop of other players around him growing up, meant a better shot at a baseball future that, for Brandon, would eventually turn into a first round draft selection in 2011 by the New York Mets.
“I came into Cheyenne at a really good point, and a lot of the guys I played with were the last class of Wyoming baseball players,” Nimmo said. “[The University of] Wyoming used to have a baseball team, but it got knocked away because of Title IX. But we played really well together, and I got to benefit from that. We grew up together, and since we were good, other teams invited us to play in their tournaments, and I got exposed to more than probably a normal Wyoming guy could get. So we were very, very blessed in the way we came up.”
Fast forward a few years, and Brandon Nimmo now finds himself one of the New York Mets’ top prospects, this season splitting time between Las Vegas and the big leagues. There are quite a few aspects of his game that draw attention, and the outfielder is slowly working his way to a sustained role in the Majors while he bides his time going up and down, but one trait stands out above all others: Brandon Nimmo is really, really patient at the plate. Across his 560-game minor league career, he’s walked 338 times, and his minor league walk rate is a stellar 13.6% over 2,484 plate appearances. This season alone, he’s drawn 35 walks in just 43 minor league games, and across parts of three seasons in Triple-A, he holds a .403 on-base percentage. That’ll soon translate to the big leagues—the 23-year-old so far has six walks in only 81 Major League plate appearances with the New York Mets—but it’s clear that Nimmo’s patient approach is one of the best aspects of his game.
Ironically, that’s not how he sees it.
“I’m never really looking to walk,” Nimmo laughed. “I’m just always looking for a good pitch to hit. Doing that over the years has developed a good strike zone for me. I’m rather confident in the strike zone I have. That doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally swing at bad pitches or get fooled, but I am always looking for good pitches to hit. And the byproduct of that has been that I do draw walks. If guys are trying to pick the corners on me, then I might not chase that. That’s what my dad taught me, and it fit right in with the Mets’ approach, too.”
Maybe it’s prescient that Nimmo has become particularly adept at drawing walks in his professional career. When you’re from Wyoming, and you don’t get seen nearly as often as amateur players from Arizona, or California, or Florida, you’d better make count whatever few travel tournament at-bats you can get—and that means waiting, and waiting, and waiting, until you finally get a pitch you can drive. That also means working even harder away from game action to prepare for those big opportunities few and far between.
“We had to try and work harder than other people,” Nimmo said of the stacked deck against him growing up in Cheyenne. “Because if you grow up in southern California, you can play baseball all year round. We went into a barn in the offseason and just worked as hard as we possibly could. And that was honestly what our coaches would tell us is ‘hey, there’s some guy in southern California out in the sun right now, enjoying the weather and playing baseball, and you’re going to have to work harder than him.”
Nimmo’s comment about the barn isn’t just talk—his parents literally built a barn in their backyard and installed a batting cage for the him and his brother to hit year-round, no matter the weather.
“My parents blessed me in a lot of ways,” Nimmo said, smiling. “They put a batting cage in our backyard in a barn and I got to work out there since I was 12 years old. I had opportunities that other people didn’t. My dad and mom made sure I took advantage of that.”
All of that work paid off, though, and Nimmo was plucked out of high school by the New York Mets with the 13th pick in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft. Look at some of the men drafted around him: Gerrit Cole (Los Angeles, California); Trevor Bauer (Los Angeles, California); Anthony Rendon (Houston, Texas); Francisco Lindor (Montverde, Florida); Javier Baez (Jacksonville, Florida); Jose Fernandez (Tampa, Florida); and then there’s Brandon Nimmo, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 13th pick. No other Wyoming player was selected in the 2011 draft. In fact, no other Wyoming player had been selected since the 2007 draft.
After adjusting to professional baseball and working his way through the minor leagues, Nimmo played in his first Major League game on June 26th, 2016 for the New York Mets. In that moment, he became the 16th Wyoming-born player to ever reach the Majors. Now, he just has to make himself stick there—a tough gig considering he’s been up and down, and up and down, and up and down between New York and Las Vegas ever since that first call-up. Such is life when you’re trying to make it to the big leagues, and he seems well-adjusted to ride out that yo-yo until he earns a spot up in the Big Apple in 2017 despite a likely stacked big league outfield depth chart.
“The only thing I could do was to try make the decision hard,” Nimmo said about how he saw his place in a deep New York Mets outfield entering 2017. “I got the opportunity to go to the World Baseball Classic, and I asked the Mets about it, and they said they’d love for me to go play in it. I did, and it was an awesome experience. It’s too bad that I got hurt in it, but it was still like playoff baseball. I came up in some big situations and it was very good for me as a player.”
“Unfortunately, I got hurt and that kind of stalled things,” he continued, referencing a strained hamstring he suffered in March that landed him on the disabled list for the first few weeks of the season. “But now, this past month has kind of been my spring training again. The preparation was good, but sometimes things happen outside of your control, and that was one of those things. You just have to deal with it. Baseball is a game of failures, so you have to learn to deal with failures and disappointments in your career. You have to pick yourself up and keep moving forward and keep being positive.”
On Friday, the New York Mets announced they were recalling Brandon Nimmo to the big leagues to take the place of the injured Juan Lagares. Whether this is just another yo-yo for a few weeks before landing back in Vegas, or that one final big league call up that’ll have him stick in New York City, Brandon Nimmo’s perseverance has him once again on an active Major League roster. Whatever may happen, as long as he keeps working hard, he’ll figure it out. This is nothing compared to those brutally cold Wyoming winters spent hitting in the backyard barn.
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