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Mets take road less traveled to find Nimmo

Mets take road less traveled to find Nimmo

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Mets take road less traveled to find Nimmo
NEW YORK -- The road that led the Mets to Brandon Nimmo wound through Illinois, Arizona -- and mostly through Wyoming, across one of amateur baseball's most obscure outposts. The game sits so far on the fringe in Cheyenne, Wyo., that the Mets were forced to alter their scouting efforts. Nimmo's high school does not even have a team.

Yet, that did not deter the Mets from making a bold first selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, taking Nimmo, a left-handed hitting outfielder, with the 13th overall pick.

"This certainly isn't without risk," Mets vice president of player development and amateur scouting Paul DePodesta said. "But as we went into this, to be quite frank with you, we weren't that interested in making what we thought was the safest pick. We were interested in making the pick that we thought had the chance to make the most impact."

The caliber of player, the Mets hope, is high. Playing for American Legion Post 6 this season, in lieu of high school ball, Nimmo is hitting .569 with two home runs, four triples and 14 stolen bases in 22 games. DePodesta referred to him as "advanced," while Mets amateur scouting director Chad MacDonald called Nimmo a "middle-of-the-field guy that can hit with power."

"That's what we like," MacDonald said.

Though all high-school players carry with them some risk, the selection of Nimmo was bolder than most. Because he spent his formative years in Wyoming, where baseball is relatively unpopular, Nimmo was not regularly exposed to the same caliber of play as some of the Draft's other top high-school prospects.

But Nimmo impressed in his few opportunities against elite competition, earning MVP honors at last summer's Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field. Throughout the past year, he has showcased all the tools the Mets desire in a future center fielder.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself," Nimmo said. "I've faced 90 miles an hour before. I never feel overwhelmed. It's baseball. It's a game. The scouts have come, seen me, and they know what they're looking for."

"When we went up there to Cheyenne, they play some pretty good baseball up there," DePodesta said. "I think if you dropped their game in South Carolina or Louisiana or Arizona, you wouldn't really have been able to tell the difference, in terms of the caliber of high school play."

Still, in the first 45 years of the First-Year Player Draft, no Wyoming player had ever gone higher than college outfielder Bill Ewing, whom the Angels selected in the fourth round in 1976. The highest a Wyoming high schooler had ever gone was pitcher Michael Beaver to the Phillies in the sixth round in 1966.

"I guess I do take some pride in that, that I'm representing Wyoming and showing that great things can come out of Wyoming," Nimmo said. "I hope that opens up doors for people from Wyoming."

Still, combine that obscurity with Nimmo's injury concerns (he dealt with knee tendinitis early this spring) and signability issues (he is committed to Arkansas), and the pick certainly qualifies as a risk.

Which is precisely what the Mets were after.

This year's Draft, DePodesta has stressed in recent weeks, was deep in pitching but noticeably lacking in impact bats. To fill one of the more conspicuous weaknesses in their farm system, the Mets knew they would have to find a strong hitter -- and perhaps even reach for one -- with the 13th overall pick. DePodesta's hope was that he would still be able to score a frontline pitcher later in the Draft.

"We felt there were only a few potential impact bats," he said. "If we were going to get one, we had to take him up high."

The pick of Nimmo represented a stark departure from the previous Mets regime, which played the Draft relatively safe last year in selecting college right-hander Matt Harvey with the seventh overall pick. Though college players usually contribute to the big league club sooner than their younger counterparts, high schoolers -- David Wright, for example -- typically boast more upside.

In the case of Nimmo, that much became clear through an exhaustive scouting schedule that took the Mets off the industry's traditional map. Among the eight or 10 Mets types to see Nimmo in person was DePodesta, who recalled a memorable trip to Denver the day before Mother's Day. DePodesta rented a car, drove to Cheyenne and watched both halves of Nimmo's Legion doubleheader, before catching the first flight back to his home in San Diego the following day.

"I remember when I was leaving on the trip, my wife at the time said, 'This one better be worth it,'" DePodesta said. "Fortunately, it was."

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at noon ET on Tuesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. Fans can join the Draft conversation by tagging tweets with #mlbdraft.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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