Some eyebrows were raised when Andres Gimenez made the Opening Day roster once the 2020 season got underway. But manager Luis Rojas has done a good job finding ways to get Gimenez’ feet wet. He’s come in as a defensive replacement in his first five games and now he’s been the starter five of his last seven games. He certainly figures to start a bunch more as long as Robinson Cano remains on the IL and he has the chance to establish himself as someone who needs to be in the lineup more times than not.
Gimenez was long considered one of the Mets’ top prospects, first for his youth and then later for his production, too. But the 2019 season was the first time that he dealt with major adversity since beginning his professional career.
After a solid debut in Double-A after a mid-year promotion in 2018, some thought he might start 2019 in Triple-A. But the Mets chose to return him to Binghamton last year. With Amed Rosario essentially learning on the job in the majors, there was no reason to rush their other top young shortstop. Gimenez got off to a solid start in 2019, posting a .744 OPS in his first 31 games. Maybe not as good as fans might have hoped but certainly not an indication of what was about to come next.
Gimenez posted just a .250 BABIP in his next 28 games and that was made even worse as he struck out 32 times in 108 ABs. The end result was a .176 AVG and a .499 OPS that effectively sunk his season. Gimenez finished the year with a .250/.309/.387 line. Instead of being viewed as the future shortstop, especially given Rosario’s strong finish in the majors, fans started to look to Ronny Mauricio as the guy who would force the Mets’ hands as to who to play at SS in the future.
What got lost due to that terrible stretch from mid-May to the end of June was how Gimenez finished the year. In his final 219 PA, he posted a .282/.326/.446 line with a .317 BABIP. He got the strikeouts under control and put up a solid OPS without needing a monster BABIP season like we sometimes see in the minors.
Next came the Arizona Fall League and after struggling so much in that loop following the 2018 season, Gimenez led the AFL, which is where clubs send their top prospects, in both AVG (.371) and OPS (.999) and he made the All-AFL team.
Now Gimenez finds himself in the majors due to the 30-man roster wrinkle that MLB introduced as a way to combat the uncertainty of playing baseball in the time of Covid-19. And while some may have thought he would be a candidate to be removed once the rosters started to shrink, Gimenez’ strong play has essentially taken that idea off the table.
Many praised the Mets’ decision to go with a stronger defensive team last night, with Gimenez and Luis Guillorme as the double play combo and newly-acquired Billy Hamilton in center field. And the defense was quite good Wednesday. But when that narrative is being pushed, it’s easy to overlook Gimenez’ .320 AVG after 12 games.
He’s provided a little bit of everything. Yes, he looks very good defensively – regardless if he’s playing 2B, 3B or SS. Gimenez is making contact, with only a 7.7 K%, which is kind of hard to believe, given his struggles early last year in Double-A. And while the hits are falling in for him right now, the fact that MLB pitchers are not knocking the bat out of his hands is a very good thing. And on top of it all, Gimenez also has two steals.
Back on Tuesday, we ran a poll asking who should get the extra playing time created with the departure of Yoenis Cespedes. The overwhelming majority – 82% as this is being written – chose Dominic Smith. Without a doubt, Smith was a solid choice. The only problem is that Gimenez might be an even better one, given the speed and defense he brings to the table.
Smith has more of a track record in the majors and an ill-timed slump starting Friday could make stumping for a larger role for Gimenez look silly. But as of today, Gimenez looks like he belongs in the majors and the idea that he’s a starting-caliber shortstop doesn’t seem farfetched at all. Rosario’s slow start at the plate, where he’s yet to draw a walk and has just a .610 OPS, certainly makes Gimenez look better.
It’s easy to get Gimenez playing time now, with three of the starting infielders from Opening Day banged up. But it’s likely that Jeff McNeil and Rosario will be back after Thursday’s day off. That still leaves one infield slot and the DH available for playing time that wasn’t there on Opening Day. And it seems likely Gimenez will play somewhere until Cano returns. Gimenez will have another five or so games, assuming Cano’s IL time is brief, to prove he should get the extra playing time for the remainder of the year.