The Mets selected Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto with the tenth pick in the 2014 first-year player draft. It’s the first draft during the Sandy Alderson era in which the team has selected a college player with their first overall pick. In the first draft for this front office in 2011, the team selected outfielder Brandon Nimmo out of a Wyoming high school. In 2012 and 2013, the team also opted to select high schoolers in Gavin Cecchini and Dominic Smith, respectively.
Players selected out of high school will generally take longer to develop than those selected out of college, obviously. The fact that the Mets chose to select high school players seemed to fall in line with where the team’s goals and priorities appeared to be at the time. During a period in which they were focusing on shedding bad contracts and rebuilding the farm system, their first-rounders were high-risk, high-reward type of players with big upside (though Cecchini was largely considered a “safe” pick). Those players, if they did make it to the majors, would be years away. Theoretically, that would translate to “when the Mets were ready to compete again.”
Was that really the team’s strategy, though? If that was the case, the selection of a highly-polished college hitter could indicate an actual shift in that strategy. It just so happens that Conforto pretty much lines up exactly with what the major league team is currently lacking: a slugger to hit in the middle of the lineup who profiles best in left field or first base. Maybe that means that the team feels as though they’re close to making the jump into competitive baseball and no longer sought long-term projects.
Another factor to consider is how the team has handled their previous first round selections. The team appeared to take things very slowly with Nimmo and Cecchini, keeping them in rookie ball the year after they were drafted. Smith, their 2013 first-rounder, was jumped to Low-A in his second year. Does that indicate the Mets are pushing for all of their top picks to be knocking on the majors at roughly the same time?
Did they choose to forgo total upside for a safer bet and less development time in Conforto? Possibly, but we really don’t know what the Mets’ thinking was during the draft. It’s not like the team really reached on this pick. Many outlets that cover the draft considered Conforto the best hitter in the class and had him as the best player still on the board at the time the Mets selected him.
The counter to all of this is that maybe the team simply selected the player they thought was the best available at the time they selected. Maybe they stuck to their board and this is simply the way the chips fell. The lining up of the team’s needs at the major league level, their timeline toward competitiveness, and their selection of a college hitter could simply have been unrelated.
Either way, Conforto is the most significant college bat the system has seen since the days of Ike Davis. He’s immediately the second best outfield prospect in the system (or first, depending on how you feel about Nimmo). Whether or not the Mets purposely selected a college hitter with a shorter path to the majors to address a need is secondary at this point. The fact that the team has added to their dearth of outfield prospects with a quality player is what’s important.