By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets
2015 season (Minors): 91 G, 357 AB, .297 BA, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 1 SB, .854 OPS
2015 season (Majors): 56 G, 174 AB, .270 BA, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 0 SB, .841 OPS
A first-round pick (No. 10 overall) in the 2014 MLB Draft, Michael Conforto entered the ‘15 season with just 42 professional games played, and those were for the Class A Short Season Brooklyn Cyclones. Not many expected him to make a big impact for the Mets last season, but then again, not many expected the Mets to have the dream season and incredible World Series run that they did have. It seemed as though nothing could go wrong in Flushing for much of last season, and Conforto was a big part of that magic.
After putting up an .854 OPS in 91 games between Class A Advanced and Double A, Conforto got the call from the Mets as they searched for offense, and it was nowhere but up from there. Conforto drove in a run in his debut and had a four-hit game the next day in a big win against the Dodgers on July 25, the day the club acquired veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. That trade is looked at as the turning point of the Mets’ season, and was a prequel to the Yoenis Cespedes deal that cemented the club’s run. Conforto may have been a forgotten man in the turnaround at one point, but he made sure to make his mark.
Conforto’s impressive Minor League OPS translated to the bigs, though the now 23-year-old has a big obstacle to overcome in order to take the next step, and that’s his ability to hit left-handers. Conforto started the majority of postseason games because the only lefty starters the Mets faced were Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson, and he was not in the starting lineup for those three games. During the regular season, Conforto had 179 plate appearances against right-handers (.872 OPS) and just 15 plate appearances vs. left-handers (3-for-14).
While Conforto went just 11-for-55 (.200) vs. southpaws at Class A Advanced, he actually had some success at Double A, going 17-for-51 (.333) against them. He wasn’t given much of an opportunity to face left-handers in the bigs last season, and it worked out fine for the Mets. But in order to continue on the trajectory of becoming a star outfielder for New York, Conforto is going to have to start against and hit lefties in 2016. It’s already been a focus of Spring Training, as he’s been doing drills and extensive work with hitting coach Kevin Long, according to reports. With veteran Michael Cuddyer out of the picture and Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza as likely reserves, the Mets don’t want a platoon situation with Conforto, their projected starting left fielder.
Split statistics aside, Conforto mashed last year, and there’s no reason he won’t continue to do so this year. Fangraphs’ ZiPs projections have him putting forth a huge season, with 26 homers and 87 RBIs in 152 games, while the more conservative Steamer projections give him 18 homers in 126 games. Conforto has impressive power and good plate discipline that should only get better with experience. It may take a little time, but when he starts hitting left-handers at the same rate as righties, he’ll be a middle-of-the-order staple in the Mets’ lineup for years to come.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.