Mets’ first-rounder can follow Nimmo’s path
Kelenic may begin road to big leagues with Cyclones in Coney Island
Jarred Kelenic, the Mets’ first-round pick in this week’s Major League Draft, has a blueprint for success to follow as he begins his progression toward the big leagues, and the starting point is right here in Brooklyn.
In 2011, the Mets made an unorthodox and unprecedented first-round selection in Brandon Nimmo, an 18-year-old Wyoming football star who had never played a single inning of varsity baseball because his high school didn’t offer the program.
Seven years later, Nimmo, who only played American Legion ball during his high school years, is an everyday outfielder for the Mets, thanks in part to the absence of the oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes, as well as the now 25-year-old’s ability to get on base.
Kelenic comes from an eerily similar background.
The 18-year-old outfielder, who bats left-handed as Nimmo does, also didn’t have a high school team to play for in Wisconsin.
But the sixth overall pick did enjoy success with the Rawlings Hitters travel program and qualified for the Team USA Under-18 squad as a 16-year-old in 2016 before helping the 2017 American squad capture the U-18 World Cup championship.
While most stud prospects and early first-round draft picks either dominate at the high school level or enjoy several years of collegiate success at big-name programs, Kelenic is hoping to follow the Nimmo Path to the Majors, one that began in earnest on Coney Island for the home-club Cyclones in 2012.
“We felt very comfortable selecting a player this high in the draft who has tremendous makeup, passion for the game, intensity for the game,” Mets director of amateur scouting Marc Tramuta told MLB.com after the organization boldly selected Kelenic.
“That’s been his sole goal is to play in the big leagues and get drafted as high as possible.”
That was Nimmo’s goal as well.
The perpetually smirking Mets’ leadoff man played just 10 games between the Mets’ Gulf Coast League affiliate and the club’s Appalachian League team in Kingsport, Tennessee, after signing his initial contract during the summer of 2011.
But in 2012, Nimmo made his way to Brooklyn, where he batted just .248 but boasted a .372 on-base percentage and drove in 40 runs in 69 games, ranking fifth overall in the New York-Penn League in RBIs.
Dubbed Captain Nimmo by the Eagle, the young center fielder embraced his role as the team’s leader and spearheaded Brooklyn to the NY-Penn Playoffs, along with future Mets teammates Kevin Plawecki and Hansel Robles.
“He’s such a good kid and he’s so beyond his years, I just watch him and admire him,” said then-Cyclones manager Rich Donnelly of the still-developing Nimmo.
“I wish every kid could have his attitude because it’s special,” Donnelly added. “He’s above special. He’s a 19-year-old kid. He came in here like a big leaguer and stood on top of the stairs shaking hands with 40 guys. That’s what big leaguers do.”
The Mets are hoping to hear similar praise from the Cyclones’ current manager, Edgardo Alfonzo, regarding Kelenic, if or when he winds up at MCU Park after signing his contract later this summer.
Like Nimmo, Kelenic also displayed a tremendous work ethic on his path to the majors, doubling up on English classes during the first half of his senior year so he could graduate early and concentrate on developing his skills for the draft.
He worked out religiously at a nearby training facility in his home state, one that is also frequented by two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, in an effort to flash the type of dedication necessary for a first-round selection.
The plan paid off Monday night when Kelenic only had to wait for five names to be called before his own.
“Today was special,” he intimated moments after receiving the good news.
“To hear your name called by such a great organization like New York, it’s a blessing. I was definitely very emotional. I got to sit and think about all the hard work that’s paid off.”
And there will be plenty of hard work ahead if Kelenic hopes to follow in the footsteps of Nimmo, who is batting .267 with seven homers, 14 RBIs, 26 runs scored and an impressive .407 on-base percentage through his first 50 games with the Mets this year.
But for right now, Kelenic can relish the opportunity he’s been given to be a highly-touted prospect in the Mets’ organizational chain, one who hopes to be a big-leaguer some day just like Nimmo.
The blueprint is there, Kelenic just has to follow it.
“Since I was about four or five, you know, I told everybody ‘I’m going to be a professional baseball player someday’ and I’ve had people laugh at me,” he recalled.
“I’ve had people say, ‘You can’t do it,’”
And now he gets a chance to prove he can.
This, That and the Other Thing: Could Cyclones fans be saying “It’s just Manny being Manny” the weekend after next when they open their season against the Staten Island Yankees? Brooklyn’s own Manny Rodriguez, the Mets’ 10th-round selection in the draft, was born and raised in our fair borough before playing his high school ball in Baltimore and starring at the University of Cincinnati. Known primarily for his strong defensive tools at shortstop, Rodriguez broke through on the offensive side this year with the Bearcats, establishing new career bests in virtually every category with a .296 average, 15 doubles, three triples, 12 homers and a .598 slugging percentage.
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