By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Cyclones center fielder Brandon Nimmo entered his first full season as a professional knowing his every move would be closely scrutinized, both by the organization that gave him a $2.1 million signing bonus last August and Brooklyn's knowledgeable baseball fanatics.
It comes with the territory when you're a highly touted first-round pick playing for one of the more visible minor league franchises at the Class A short-season level.
"All athletes on big stages, they get nervous and that's what makes you play your best," Nimmo said before his first game at MCU Park earlier this month. "It's a great place to start off."
Through his first 10 games on Coney Island, the 19-year-old Wyoming native and the 13th overall pick by the parent-club Mets in the 2011 MLB Draft has struggled mightily at the plate. At least that's the way it may appear to those looking solely at Nimmo's .152 batting average (5-for-33) following his first week and a half in a Brooklyn uniform.
But take a peek behind Nimmo's less-than-impressive average and you'll find a solid contributor and natural leader, who has helped fuel the Baby Bums' early season rise to the top of the McNamara Division standings.
Nimmo is the only player on the 14-team New York-Penn circuit to have reached base in every game this season, drawing a league-high 12 walks, including one in Wednesday night's 4-1 victory over visiting Hudson Valley before a crowd of 7,113 on Coney Island. Perhaps more impressively, he hasn't allowed his paltry average to disrupt his navigation of MCU Park's vast outfield grass, playing error-free baseball at one of the sport's most challenging positions.
"I feel good about center field. That's where I'm comfortable," Nimmo noted, though he added that he could play both right and left field as well.
As for his hitting woes, Nimmo believes his average will rise to a more respectable number as long as he keeps displaying patience at the plate during the 76-game grind of the NY-Penn schedule over the next 2 1/2 months.
"There's a reason that I was picked where I was [in the draft]," he said. "I've got a good approach and a good swing."
He won't get any arguments in that regard from Brooklyn manager Rich Donnelly, who dropped Nimmo from his customary second spot in the lineup to the No. 8 hole on Wednesday. Donnelly, a veteran of 27 big league seasons as a coach and in his second summer on Coney Island, sees Nimmo as a perfect prototype for budding prospects.
"If you drew up how I want my player to play, I'd draw Brandon Nimmo," the 65-year-old skipper gushed. "He's very good at everything."
The rest of the Brooklyn lineup appears to be following Nimmo's lead. Despite a combined .238 team batting average — 10th in the league — the Cyclones pace the NY-Penn in on-base percentage with a .354 clip.
Nimmo batted .241 with two homers, four RBIs and five runs scored in seven games for the Gulf Coast League Mets in his first taste of pro action last year after inking his lucrative contract. Considering he never played organized high school ball, due to the lack of such opportunities in Cheyenne, Wyo., the 6-foot-3, 185-pound outfielder can certainly be considered a risky pick in the first round.
But his attitude, combined with his projected skills at the big league level, made him attractive to an organization that is hoping to turn a diamond in the rough into an everyday presence in the center of their diamond at Citi Field in Flushing.
"I don't want to sound cocky, but I feel like I'm advanced," Nimmo said during Mets Spring Training camp in February. "I know that some people think that taking me in that No. 13 spot was maybe a little high, but I don't feel that way. I feel like they took me there for a reason and I know what that reason is: I can handle this."
Thus far, Nimmo is handling it all very well, even if the number's don't quite show it yet.
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Hansel Robles (1-1) earned the win in Wednesday night's victory over the Renegades, allowing four hits while striking out four without issuing a walk over 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
The 21-year-old Dominican right-hander, who went a combined 11-8 with a 2.93 ERA in 44 appearances, including 21 starts, over his first three pro seasons after signing with the Mets as a non-drafted free agent in 2008, kickstarted the latest in a series of brilliant starts by Cyclones pitchers thus far this summer.
The Baby Bums (7-3) have limited the opposition to one run or fewer in five of their first 10 games, yielding only two runs in another contest during this dizzying season-opening stretch. Add to that the solid performance of the Brooklyn bullpen, which saw David Wynn and Ernesto Yanez combine for 2 1/3 solid frames Wednesday before side-winding right-handed closer Tyler Vanderheiden recorded his third save in as many opportunities with a one-hit ninth, and it's no wonder the Cyclones are leading the NY-Penn with a 2.35 team ERA, five saves, two shutouts and a dazzling 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).
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This, That and the Other Thing: RF Eudy Pina's batting average is finally catching up with his penchant for clutch hitting. The 21-year-old native of the Dominican Republic went 2-for-3 with a double, a run scored and his team-leading 11th RBI, which is just one off the league high. Pina, who went hitless in his four of his first six games this season, is in the midst of an 8-for-16 stretch, boosting his overall mark to .297. He doubled and scored in the third inning Wednesday before delivering an RBI single in the fourth that gave Brooklyn a 4-0 lead. ... The Cyclones will host Aberdeen in the opener of a three-game series at MCU Park on Thursday.