Brandon Nimmo soaks in moment after long road from Wyoming to Mets

WASHINGTON -- Before disrupting his neatly arranged locker at Turner Field on Saturday, New York Mets call-up Brandon Nimmo pulled out his iPhone and took a photo of its contents.

“I was like, ‘I want to remember every minute of this day,’” Nimmo said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. There it is. There’s my MLB debut locker.’ So I wanted to snap the picture and try to soak it all in.”

The Mets had promoted the 23-year-old Nimmo to replace fellow former first-round pick Michael Conforto, who was demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas in the midst of an 8-for-75 rut.

Ideally, Nimmo would help jump-start the Mets’ offense, just as Conforto did with his arrival in July 2015. However, that is unfair to ask of the 2011 first-round pick.

It also is unfair to Nimmo that in recent years he has been required to live with the stigma -- or, at least, the distinction -- of being the player drafted one slot before the Miami Marlins selected Jose Fernandez 14th overall.

“I tried to not pay attention to it,” Nimmo said. “I know it’s out there. I’m sure if everybody knew how he was going to turn out, if the draft was a sure thing, he would have gone No. 1 overall. I’m not taking anything away from Jose Fernandez. He’s a great player. But I just had to keep my nose to the grindstone, just focus on what I could do, because he was outside of my control.”

Nimmo was the first pick of general manager Sandy Alderson, who took over in October 2010.

Nimmo grew up hitting in a cage in a 40-by-60-foot barn on his family’s six-acre grounds in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The state is one of three with no sanctioned high school baseball, along with Montana and South Dakota. No other prospect in Wyoming history had been selected earlier than the sixth round -- where Michael Beaver was picked by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1966.

So how did Nimmo get on MLB teams’ radars?

His American Legion Post 6 coach, Tagg Lain, was picked to be a coach at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars in North Carolina in 2010. He persuaded organizers to include a 17-year-old Nimmo. Nimmo parlayed a solid showing into an invitation to the Under Armour All-American game at Wrigley Field that summer. He was named the American team’s MVP.

Fast-forward to on Sunday, when Nimmo went 0-for-4 with a game-ending strikeout against the Atlanta Braves in his major league debut. He recorded his first big league hit on Monday with a second-inning single to right-center against Washington Nationals right-hander Joe Ross.

The lefty-hitting, righty-throwing Nimmo hit .328 with five homers and 37 RBIs and had five steals in 12 attempts in 250 at-bats with Las Vegas this season before the promotion. Although there are concerns about his ability to hit southpaws in the majors, Nimmo did hit .338 (25-for-74) against left-handed pitching in the Pacific Coast League.

The Mets began exposing Nimmo -- a natural center fielder -- to the corner outfield spots in 2014.

There does need to be some realism about the expectations for Nimmo. Conforto still projects as the one with the power and high upside.

“I think his best chance of being an everyday regular, if he’s ever going to be that, will be with a second-division club,” a National League scout said. “I don’t think he’s going to be able to handle left-handed pitching on a consistent basis. And he doesn’t really profile as a center fielder. If he’s going to be a corner guy, he doesn’t have enough power. For me, he profiles best as a fourth outfielder who gets the majority of his playing time against right-handed pitching at any of the three outfield positions."

“He’s an above-average runner, but he’s not a burner," the scout added. "So I think to have him play center field on a regular basis, with his lack of plus range and foot speed, would be exposed over time -- but not if you play him there one or two days a week. I think he’s going to be a very good major leaguer. He’s got the type of swing that will work well if he doesn’t play every day. There’s not a lot of moving parts, and he knows the strike zone. He’ll be able to pinch hit and go in on double-switches and pinch run and go in for defense.

"He serves a very useful purpose on a winning club. I just don’t think it’s going to be as an everyday player against left-handed pitching.”

Injuries elongated Nimmo’s climb through the minor league system. He did not participate in big league camp this spring training because he arrived with a torn tendon in his left foot, which required a walking boot and platelet-rich plasma therapy. During the 2015 spring training, Nimmo’s Grapefruit League action stalled when his left thumb swelled after getting jammed by a pitch. He then was limited to 104 games during the 2015 minor league season after suffering an ACL sprain while stepping on first base in a May game with Double-A Binghamton.

The injuries have been fluky too. After joining Las Vegas in August, Nimmo briefly was sidelined after taking a baseball off the nose in a batting cage. In 2014, he missed time with pinkeye. An ACL tear in Nimmo’s right knee while playing wide receiver seven years ago ended his high school football career.

Nimmo really bulked up his upper-body strength during the 2013-14 offseason, when he worked out at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, alongside Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. He left that facility at 208 pounds and with 8 percent body fat.

Nimmo is particularly chatty and engaging, which should endear him to Mets fans. When his initial conference call with reporters after the draft back in 2011 appeared complete, he took the unusual step for a teenager of asking if he could add one more thing. In an interview at his locker upon joining the Mets on Saturday, he filled six minutes of reporters’ recorders while answering only four questions.

In Las Vegas, Nimmo’s late-night habits appeared pure. From his Twitter account @You_Found_Nimmo, he would tweet daily bible verses between 1 and 3 a.m.

“Normally after the game is when I spend my time with the Lord,” Nimmo said. “Some people are morning people. Some people are night people. With this schedule, I’ve kind of evolved to be a night person.”

On the night he learned he was promoted, Nimmo’s 2:09 a.m. tweet -- with his iPhone battery at 9 percent -- came from John 16:13-14. It read in part: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

Nimmo did not select the verse for the occasion. The passages he tweets come from former NFL coach Tony Dungy’s book “Uncommon Life,” which Nimmo’s fiancée, Chelsea Bradley, purchased as a gift. The book has a particular devotional assigned to each day.

Last weekend in Atlanta, Nimmo cheerfully retold the story of how Las Vegas manager Wally Backman informed him of the promotion to the majors.

“He just was complimenting me,” Nimmo said. “He said I was playing the game really hard, and he was really proud of that. He said what I was doing here would transition to the big leagues -- to stay with my approach and just with the game that I play, playing hard. He said, ‘So when that day comes, you’ll be fine.’”

Backman then informed Nimmo that the team’s commercial flight from Reno to Las Vegas the following morning was full and he would have to travel separately through Salt Lake City. Nimmo understood, noting he was "low man on the totem pole."

Then Backman stopped Nimmo as the prospect departed the visiting manager's office in Reno.

"Yes sir?" Nimmo asked.

"By the way," Backman added, "that flight goes to Atlanta."

"Are you kidding me?" Nimmo asked.

"No, I wouldn’t kid about that," Backman said.

As Nimmo explained, “Then I just started hugging everybody. They all said congratulations. It was a pretty good one. He got me pretty good.”