Michael Conforto and the power of surprise

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.

Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.

12 comments for “Michael Conforto and the power of surprise

  1. Metictated
    March 22, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Admittedly, I am reprinting this from yesterday… I would give Lagares a month or more to relax and stop pressing. The desire to be outstanding and land a prominent role in the outfield has gotta have him overthinking, especially given his adjustment to a new set of swing mechanics. Does anyone here know what it’s like to hit ninety-plus mile per hour fastballs, let alone put good wood on it and direct its flight? Ever try to hit eighty in the batting cage? Huh? Round ball…round bat…crafty professional pitchers launching balls with extreme velocity, spin, sink, drift etc. Elusive pitchers with deliveries that confuse a hitter. Less than a second to see with naked eyes which pitch, its path, its destination,and to accurately anticipate all those variables alongside implementing the hand eye coordination necessary to wrest control of the ball with the bat….Moreover, to put all those laws of physics into precise efficient motion, with power no less !, All while under the extraordinary pressure to perform in front of huge crowds of demanding fans, not to mention deserve your big salary. Yikes, you could lose your hard-on from less!

    • Pete In Iowa
      March 22, 2018 at 2:30 pm

      You have done a great job of listing all of the things good major league hitters have to overcome in their profession to be successful.
      The problem is, after 5 seasons, Lagares hasn’t overcome one or a combination of these things which has not allowed him to be an even passable major league hitter. And years worth of evidence would point to the fact that he never will.

    • TexasGusCC
      March 23, 2018 at 3:41 am

      Lagares problems aren’t just his hitting approach, it’s recognizing and laying off the slider away.

  2. Madman
    March 22, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Montero,Robles,and Lagares should be traded.

    • March 22, 2018 at 2:44 pm

      Not so fast on Montero…

      Just found out he needs TJ surgery.

    • Mike Walczak
      March 22, 2018 at 11:00 pm

      Montero took care of the Montero problem. Who knows if he will ever see a MLB diamond again.

  3. Pete from NJ
    March 22, 2018 at 11:48 am

    Charlie’s biography of young Conforto reads like a Met fairy tale.

    Riches of the 2015 season which we can argue that is was not only Cespedes/Murphy but young Michael was just as important.

    How could we forget 2016 how the pitchers gave him a fastball which he took and then swung at two inside sliders and the poor guy was so lost that he had to take a flight to Ls Vegas to get himself together.

    2017 ticketed to the LV but blooms like a spring flower instead in Flushing

    So 2018 with an injury which we all hope is healed is another triall for the young man. So we should appreciate this template using it for Ahmed Rosario watching and waiting.

    • March 22, 2018 at 1:12 pm

      Within the span of a week in 2015:

      — Conforto called up

      — K. Johnson & J. Uribe acquired

      — T. Clippard & A. Reed acquired

      — Y. Cespedes acquired

      Conforto was the first piece.

  4. Madman
    March 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Kind of like this off season, Swarsak,Bruce, Frazier, Vargas! Let’s Go Mets!

  5. Steevy
    March 22, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    Strawberry didn’t have enough ABs to qualify but his .512 slugging percentage would have been sixth in the NL and his .848 OS seventh.So who cares about .257 batting average?:)

    • March 23, 2018 at 11:42 am

      That was just to illustrate how naïve I was at the time: I didn’t think he was that good, #1 & #2, I didn’t know about advanced analytics yet at 18 years old.

  6. Chris B
    March 23, 2018 at 12:31 am

    Conforto hit for the cycle in a minor league/simulated game. 3 HRs over the last few days.

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