Brandon Nimmo has had a dynamite start to the 2014 season.
Entering play on May 6, at age 21 in the Florida State League, the 2011 first round pick is hitting .363/.507/.478 in advanced Single-A. He leads all of minor league baseball with 33 walks in 31 games. His two home runs – not yet a quarter of the way through the season – already equal last year’s total.
And yet, when asked about his in-season goals for 2014, he reverted to talking about what he hoped to accomplish before the season started.
“The goal in the off-season was to get bigger, stronger, faster and more flexible,” he said. “I accomplished that.”
Nimmo went down to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL for almost two months to get ready for the 2014 season – three weeks in December as a “trial run” as he put it and then four more weeks in January. The trial convinced him.
“Absolutely loved it. Loved what I was able to do there. It was big for me,” Nimmo said.
At IMG, Nimmo worked alongside big leaguers, including Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. The program was a nearly full-day — 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later. As trainer Phil Wallin, who worked with Nimmo and the professional baseball group put it, “It’s almost like an 8-5 job training his body to get it ready for the season.”
A typical day began with a 30-minute soft-tissue session “pre-generation” in IMG parlance, focused on mobility and flexibility, at least an hour outside for speed and flexibility and an hour to two of baseball specific work and drills, including hitting in the batting cage. A break for lunch splits up the day, followed by up to two hours in the weight room, and finally, a recovery specific work which included hot tubs, cold tubs and hyperbaric chambers.
Nimmo added roughly a pound of week of muscle at IMG, to reach almost the 200-205 pound range. But it had to be good weight.
“With Brandon, the big thing that we needed to do was maintain his flexibility and mobility so he could still play at a high level,” Wallin said.
The strength work was complemented by the flexibility training, including yoga.
“He was kind of stiff coming in, but he left much more relaxed and he was more under control of everything,” Wallin said.
St. Lucie Mets hitting coach Joel Fuentes, who worked with Nimmo last year, noticed the same thing in his swing.
“This year year, he is doing wonderful. He’s more consistent in his approach. Everything’s under control,” Fuentes said. “He’s more aggressive with the pitch that he really wants to swing at.”
Did Fuentes see Nimmo as stronger this year?
“Oh, my god. Big time. He still has the baby face, but that body frame changed a lot, you know? It’s lean … hands are very strong, he’s driving the ball very well.” The extra strength allows him to stay “short and compact” to the ball, but as Fuentes notes, “the ball jumps off his bat.”
So, that’s the stronger part. What about faster? Despite playing a strong center field in 2013, Nimmo was not a good base stealer, going 10-for-17. He was just 1-for-6 stealing bases in 2012 in Brooklyn.
Over the winter, he rebuilt his running form. Wallin described the process:
“We broke down his running mechanics. We started straight ahead. Just how to run faster. We broke down the acceleration – the first three or four steps. And they were long steps – and a lot of people will train that. But we actually train to shorten the stride up at the beginning so they’re shorter strides, but they’re more powerful steps. … We changed up his technique as a runner. He’s taking smaller steps at the beginning and then as he gets 5-10-15 yards down the field, you’ll see his stride length kinda increase. We taught him how to put more force into the ground.”
Nimmo is five-for-seven stealing bases thus far in 2014. He is halfway to last year’s stolen base total in less than a third of the games.
“It’s really just the repetition and getting on base more, and having more experience,” Nimmo said.
The time at IMG did not just produce a few extra pounds of muscles, or a few hundredths of a second on the bases. The idea, with a player like Nimmo, was to teach him techniques he could use all the way through the season, and produce habits that would keep him healthy.
“They showed me a lot of how to activate your body and how to prepare your body for the day,” Nimmo said. “Rather than just showing up, and stretching on the field… There’s a lot more preparation this year that goes into getting ready for the day.”
Oh, and athletes need fuel. Nimmo praises the work of the nutritionists who gave him guidance on performance nutrition.
“That’s been very beneficial and crucial to this season and the results that I’ve been getting,” he said.
Nimmo is a high-energy guy who is burning through plenty of calories, so IMG had him focus on making sure he was getting enough protein and fiber at the right times relative to his workouts. He’s added Greek yogurt with some fruit, and making sure his crackers are whole wheat to provide fiber. He’s even packing special protein-rich snacks for road trips.
Nimmo is hardly a finished product. He has shown elite patience as evidenced by his 23 percent walk rate. However, the power is not at the same level. His .115 isolated slugging percentage would rank 15th among qualified MLB centerfielders.
He is still three levels from the big leagues, but he is bigger, stronger and faster.