CHEYENNE, Wyo.—Brandon Nimmo was well below the baseball radar, growing up in Wyoming, which has the smallest population of any state in the United States and never has had high school baseball because of the cold weather that hangs around long enough that the rule of thumb is not to plant those annuals in the garden until after Memorial Day.
But once scouts got their first glimpse of Nimmo, word got around in a hurry. The kid from the Cowboy State had game.
It was more by chance that Nimmo burst onto the national scene and became the first Wyoming high school product to be drafted in the first round when the Mets called his name with the 13th pick in this year’s draft. Big deal? Well, back in 1966, the Phillies selected righthander Michael Beaver from Worland in the sixth round. There hadn’t been a Wyoming high school kid drafted higher than that until Nimmo.
Nimmo got his chance to open eyes a year ago when Tagg Lain, the manager of Cheyenne’s Post 6 American Legion team, handled the national American Legion team in USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars at Cary, N.C. Lain brought Nimmo with him and batted him third, and Nimmo responded by hitting .400 and helping the Legion team into the title game. “He’s that kind of player,” Lain said. “You can see it. He handles big situations very well.”
The showing in North Carolina earned Nimmo an invite to the Under Armour All-American game at Wrigley Field, where he went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, two runs and the MVP award for the American team. Then came a standout performance at the Arizona Senior Fall Classic.
“The thing the doubters would bring up was the level of competition he had faced, but he answered those questions with an exclamation point,” one scouting director said. “When he was given the challenge in those showcase events he didn’t simply survive, he thrived. He matched up with the best players in the country and he came out on top. He wasn’t the least bit intimidated.”
Plenty Of Competition
Much can be made about the lack of high school baseball in Wyoming, but what gets overlooked is the aggressive schedule played by Post 6, which frequently ventures into Colorado to play top programs there and annually plays more than 70 games. In his first three years, Nimmo hit .400 or better each season. At the time of the draft this year, he was hitting .525. He’s 6-foot-3, 185 pounds with room to grow. He has the speed to play center field, the arm to play right field, and the bat to hit in the middle of a lineup.
Baseball is a passion. A shed behind the family home was converted into a batting cage, and it’s where Nimmo and his older brother Bryce honed their swings. Brandon was in awe of his brother, a starting center fielder for three years at Nebraska and member of the 2005 College World Series team that included Joba Chamberlain, Alex Gordon and Brian Duensing.
“I was just chasing Bryce, and along the way got noticed,” said Nimmo, who committed to Arkansas. He caught Bryce, and passed him. Heck, he passed anybody who has ever played the game in Wyoming.
It’s not unusual for Wyoming kids with baseball ambitions to go to high school in Colorado or Utah for the extra competition and exposure. Other players head to junior colleges or four-year schools, such as Mike Devereaux and Mike Lansing, both of whom grew up in Casper but didn’t get drafted out of high school. Devereaux was drafted by the Dodgers in the fifth round in 1985 out of Arizona State. Lansing was a sixth-round pick out of Wichita State in 1990.
Most teams lump Wyoming in with the Dakotas, Montana, western Nebraska and Idaho for an area scout, a huge territory. That’s what makes Nimmo’s rise to a first-round draft choice all the more improbable.
“You look back on everything,” he told the Casper Star Tribune, “like the Under Armour game. I was watching that a year before. I was saying, ‘What would it be like to be one of those kids? To get that opportunity and to just play on that field?’
“Then you see the MVP guys afterward and you’re just like, ‘Those guys have it made. They’re so good. They’re so talented.’ Then a year later, I’m sitting in that same exact spot.
“It’s really weird to think about. This was the first time really a Wyoming kid had been to the game, let alone get MVP. It’s been a surreal experience. It is weird that it’s happening to me.”