Blue Jays' top pick Arjun Nimmala 'hooked' after signing first pro contract

Arjun Nimmala may still be five or so years away from the majors, but the Blue Jays' 2023 first round pick has already made a strong impression.

Arjun Nimmala was everywhere at once.

He lounged in the Rogers Centre dugout. He posed for photos. He shook hands with coaches and chatted with players, even stopping to compliment Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on his recent victory at the Home Run Derby.

For a 17-year-old, and one of the youngest players selected in the 2023 MLB Draft, Nimmala seemed remarkably at home. That ease and adaptability were two things the Blue Jays recognized early in the scouting process before selecting Nimmala with the 20th selection in the first round.

The youngster visited the Blue Jays on July 14, and his $3-million signing bonus — about $750,000 below slot value — was made official three days later.

On paper, Toronto acquired a bat-first shortstop with heavy upside. In practice, the Jays drafted a bubbly young kid ready to soak everything in. And Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins was quite pleased after meeting Nimmala in person for the first time.

"It was clear that he was very comfortable — appropriately comfortable — [and] very respectful," Atkins said. "He seems to have all of the foundation for what's ahead of him, for all the challenges that are ahead of him, and the talent is clear."

Atkins likened Nimmala’s composure in a major-league environment to that of Guerrero and Cavan Biggio, two players who grew up with dads in the big leagues. That’s a mighty compliment, but Nimmala comes from a far different background.

His parents immigrated from India to the United States, and Nimmala was born and raised near Tampa, Florida. Although he began playing cricket, baseball quickly took over, with the dream of playing in MLB always in his sights.

Arjun Nimmala may still be five or so years away from the majors, but the Blue Jays' 2023 first-round pick has already made a strong impression. (Getty)
Arjun Nimmala may still be five or so years away from the majors, but the Blue Jays' 2023 first-round pick has already made a strong impression. (Getty)

The draft day experience was the first stage. Nimmala’s visit to Toronto is another step in that giant journey.

"I thought the experience was surreal," Nimmala said Wednesday in a Zoom call with reporters. "I couldn't have scripted a better way. Going up to Toronto, I didn't know what to expect. And all the guys — the coaches, [president] Mark Shapiro, Ross [Atkins], everyone —were super kind. And they welcomed me with open arms."

Nimmala schmoozed around the park and had a quick talk with Shapiro, but the real show began when the 6-foot-1 infielder stepped in to hit. The crack off his bat was incredible, a sound guaranteed to give a baseball purist goosebumps.

He scorched his batting practice offerings, ripping line drives into the gap and driving homers to deep centre field. Listed at a lean 170 pounds, Nimmala generated tornadoes of torque with his body and put on an impressive display.

The swing itself is unique. After Nimmala follows through, he twists his wrists and pauses his hands high above his head. People often assume the follow-through comes from his roots in cricket, Nimmala said. That’s not the case; it’s all part of the mechanics that make him a deadly hitter.

"It helps me keep my bat in the zone as long as possible," Nimmala said. "It's like a good cue for me, and it became natural, so it happens in-game. It happens all the time."

Atkins saw some shades of current MLB stars in Nimmala’s distinctive stroke.

"Julio Rodriguez [and] Mookie Betts have a little bit of a higher finish with a little bit more of an abrupt finish," Atkins said. "But the most unique thing to me [about Nimmala’s swing] is how quick and powerful it is."

While Nimmala possesses the arm strength and athleticism to stay at shortstop long-term, his bat carries all the upside. Like most young hitters, his pitch selection will also need refining, but the raw talent is there. And as Nimmala matures, physically and mechanically, better results will follow.

"I can always get better in the lower half, using my lower half, bat path, all those types of things," Nimmala said.

Nimmala will continue his training at the Blue Jays’ player development complex in Dunedin. That means long days emphasizing the fundamentals: swinging, baserunning, and ground balls.

It’s a long road ahead — a prospect Nimmala’s age might take five years to reach the majors — but he said his quick stop in Toronto had him "hooked." Now it’s time to get to work.