If you’re a seasoned baseball watcher, over time, you start to think you know it all. Oh, sure, scouts get paid to evaluate talent, but a long-time fan can recognize talent just as well. Or so we think. While scouts get fooled sometimes, we get fooled far more often. I know of one fan who thought Darryl Strawberry was a bust his first few weeks in the big leagues, back in 1983. He looked gangly and awkward, he struck out an awful lot and he tried to make a lot of bone-headed plays on defense. Sure, he won the Rookie of the Year award, but that was more due to a lack of other candidates in the National League that year. Really: who wins a RoY batting .257? Sometimes, it can be fun to be wrong.
This same fan has had a similar relationship with Michael Conforto. At the time he was drafted in 2014 – a first-rounder, mind you — he was another in a line of recent young Mets who could hit on a major league level, but really had no position, a list that included Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda at the time. The scouts all said Conforto’s outfield defense was sorely lacking, a reason the erstwhile Oregon State slugger fell to the Mets at pick number ten. It was thought it would take a lot of minor league work to polish this rough diamond. Upon signing, he immediately reported to Brooklyn, where he raked to a tune of .331/.403/.448, good for an OPS of .851 over 186 plate appearances. That was to be expected, but his defense played a lot better than anyone thought it would in the great expanse of Coney Island’s left field. He surprised everyone. It was also somewhat a surprise when he began the next year at the high-A level in Port St. Lucie, rather than the less demanding low-A team in Savannah, or even rookie-league ball. It was an even bigger surprise when he tore through that Florida State League and made the jump to AA by Memorial Day weekend. For sure, no one expected that. He impressed even more up in Binghamton, posting an .899 OPS in a pitchers’ league. Something like this simply couldn’t be ignored and by supreme fortune, the Mets found themselves in need of outfield help if they wanted to have any shot at joining a pennant race. Conforto got that rare AA-to-the-Majors call on July 24, the first movement in the Mets’ 2015 pennant symphony. The kid who was drafted only a year before now found himself the starting left fielder in the World Series. Who ever thought of that?
After his strong showing his rookie year, he was counted on as a key cog in the Mets’ NL title defense. He started off April like gangbusters, but the young lefty slugger – always susceptible to left-handed pitching – was broken by Madison Bumgarner on May 1. His season tailspinned to the point where he found himself down in AAA Las Vegas for the end of June and most of July. When he returned, he still couldn’t find his stroke and his miserable year ended with him on the bench for the frustrating NL Wild Card game, while Ty Kelly and Eric Campbell got futile at-bats against the victorious Bumgarner. Everyone needs some unpleasant surprises, too, I guess. 2017 started with doubts as to whether Conforto would come north with the team, or go right to Vegas at the end of camp. Hoo-boy was that another surprise…
Conforto not only came north, he was the team’s best player. Better than Yoenis Cespedes. Better than Jay Bruce. Better than Duda, better than Curtis Granderson. Oh, yeah, he would sit against the tough lefty – the Bumgarners of the world – but he generally hit everybody, so much so that he was the Mets’ lone representative in the 2017 All Star game. Nobody expected that. It looked like he was in line for a banner year, even if the team was not. Then one day at the end of August, in the fifth inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Conforto swung and missed a Robbie Ray fastball, somehow dislocating his shoulder in the process of a normal swing. No one had ever seen that before. Thus Conforto became the symbol of the 2017 Mets – a promising start poisoned by injury. It was unclear when he would be ready to play again. Certainly not to start the 2018 season, hopefully by the All Star break. Instead, Conforto has surprised us, again, as it’s now looking like he’ll be back in the lineup before April is though.
Sometimes, it can be fun to be wrong.
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