Andres Gimenez Shows Skills Beyond His Years
JUPITER, Fla.—Even at just 19 years old, opposing teams in the Florida State League have already identified Mets shortstop prospect Andres Gimenez as the hitter with whom their pitchers must be the most careful. They don't come right out and say it, obviously, but it's easy to tell by the way he's been pitched this year.
Gimenez gets everybody's finest changeup, their toughest breaking ball, and their most vexing sequences. If someone else happens to do damage against them, so be it, but they're going to work as hard they can to make sure Gimenez doesn't beat them.
"What has been real strange for me here is that, offensively, we're not a juggernaut as a team, let's put it that way," St. Lucie manager Chad Kreuter said. "He is our best hitter as a two-hole hitter as a 19-year-old. Teams have seen him as our best hitter, and they pitch around him.
"If he was on any other lineup, with a Jeff McNeil or a Peter Alonso, he'd be getting a ton of fastballs and he might be hitting .330, but because he's here he gets changeups, sliders, curveballs. Those are all the first pitches he sees every at-bat, which is great for his development, but it's also hindered his ability to hit for a higher average right now."
As it is, Gimenez, who ranks as the Mets' No. 1 prospect, is doing just fine. He's hitting .282/.348/.432 with six home runs, 20 RBIs and 28 stolen bases. This is especially impressive considering he entered the season as the third-youngest player in the FSL, behind Isaac Paredes (Tigers) and Cristian Pache (Braves).
He also earned a spot in this year's Futures Game, along with Alonso, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. He went 0-for-2 in the game, but his double-play ball ranked as one of the hardest-hit balls of the afternoon, as measured by exit velocity.
To stand out like that in a game full of hulking sluggers, there must be something special about how Gimenez uses his 5-foot-11, 161-pound frame that allows him to get the most out of every swing.
"When you start talking about hitting and kinetic links, that's what separates the best players from the worst, obviously, and also separates the best players from the good players," Kreuter said.
"Their kinetic link as they swing, that chain reaction, when everything lines up—front side, hands, hips, bat, barrel—his kinetic link is as good as some really good big leaguers, and it's only going to get better as he learns to maneuver his body, but he's doing things that most high school players dream about."
The way Gimenez moves his body, the rhythm, the timing and the feel for the barrel, didn't come overnight. It was forged over a decade and a half, since he was a very young boy in Venezuela. If he looks like a veteran on the field, that's because it's the truth.
"I started playing baseball at three years old. My older cousin was playing already, and I wanted to follow him," Gimenez said at Baseball America's annual Prospect Pad event, held the day before the Futures Game. "From there, my mom took me to baseball camps, and I've been playing ever since."
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Gimenez is lauded for his instincts on the field, as well as his overall blend of skills. Still, there are plenty of edges to polish. One challenge he's been given this season involves learning to better command the strike zone. If he stops swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone, his manager explained to him, pitchers will be forced to throw him balls in the zone if they want to get him out.
Friday's game, Kreuter said, was a perfect example of Gimenez taking that lesson and quickly applying it to game situations.
"He and Joel Fuentes, our hitting coach, were watching some video (on Thursday), and all our video has (the strike zone box) on the screen with the where the ball ends up and all that stuff," Kreuter said. "And I just jokingly stopped by and (told Gimenez), 'You know how you can get better? Stop swinging at those balls that are coming out of (the zone).'
"And he kind of looked at me funny and says, 'Well I'm trying not to," and I said, 'Well, if you don't swing at those, then they throw more inside the box.'"
The next night, Gimenez took that lesson, combined it with his natural talent to work and ripped pitches all over the yard. In his first two at-bats, lefthander Evan Kruczynski fed him pitches over the outside part of the plate, and Gimenez shot them into left field for a double and a single, respectively. He added another hit later in the game—a line shot up the middle against a righthanded reliever—to put his sixth three-hit game of the season in the books.
"I'm trusting the process," Gimenez said. "Having that many at-bats in a season, I'm able to recognize pitches much better now."
On Sunday, the Mets promoted Gimenez to Double-A Binghamton, where he should start facing pitchers with much better command and control of the strike zone and much sharper secondary pitches than the ones he's seen in high Class A.
Judging by the way he's handled his current level at such a young age, there's plenty of reason to believe he'll find a way to adapt, adjust and succeed.