New York Mets prospects

Michael Conforto: Catching up with #1

By Michael Lecolant
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The flip side of New York’s disappointing 74-88 record in 2013 was earning a top ten pick in the 2014 June amateur draft.

With it, general manager Sandy Alderson snapped a three year string of using his #1 picks to draft high school players. With the 10th overall selection of this year’s draft, Alderson decided upon outfielder Michael Conforto, 21, a junior from Oregon State University.

A month prior to the draft, Baseball America listed Michael Conforto 11th on their May list of top 100 prospects.

June 9, 2013; Corvallis, OR, USA; Oregon State Beavers player Michael Conforto (8) rounds the bases after hitting a home-run against the Kansas State Wildcats in the first inning of the Corvallis Super Regional at Goss Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

On July 11, after a near month-long negotiation, Michael Conforto and the Mets agreed to a $2,970,800 million dollar signing bonus.

Conforto was then assigned to the (short season-A) Brooklyn Cyclones, where he made his professional debut on July 19. In front of a home crowd, he went 1-for-4 with a run scored. That started a career launching 10-game hitting streak, in which he went 15 for his first 38, with a triple slash of .395/.452/.526 – 5 doubles, 6 runs scored, and 4 RBI.

That only begins to tell the story. Circling back through his amateur career will demonstrate how Amazin’ly consistent Conforto stayed through his first pro season in Brooklyn, and even during a brief call-up to the Low-A Savannah Sand Gnats.

Michael Conforto played shortstop in high school. In his senior season at Redmond H.S., Washington, he played 29 games, batting an even .400, with 5 doubles, 7 home runs, and 19 RBI.

As a 19-year old freshman for the Oregon State Beavers, Conforto was switched to the outfield. In 58 games and 218 at-bats, he posted an outstanding slash of .349/.437/.601/1.038, with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, and 76 RBI. He drew 24 walks and fanned 37 times.

In 65 games and 247 at-bats as a sophomore, he posted a .328/.447/.526/.974 slash, with 14 doubles, 11 home runs, and 47 RBI. He drew 41 walks and fanned 47 times.

This year, in his final season, Conforto played 59 games. In 203 at-bats, he slashed .345/.504/.547/1.050, with 16 doubles, 7 home runs, and 56 RBI. He drew 55 walks and fanned 38 times.

That brings us back to Brooklyn, where in 42 games and 163 at-bats Conforto slashed .331/.403/.448/.851, with 10 doubles, 3 home runs, and 19 RBI. He did not meet the minimum required at-bats, so unofficially, he finished the season second in the New York Penn League in batting, and second in OBP as one of just two players with a .400+ mark, and tied for third in OPS.

Between Oregon State and Brooklyn, Conforto played in 101 games. He tallied 163 hits in 366 total at-bats for a .339 batting average. He combined to hit 26 doubles, 10 home runs, and drove in 76 runs. He walked 71 times and struck out 67 times.

Once Brooklyn’s season ended without a playoff berth, Conforto was sent to Savannah where he appeared in 2 post-season games for the Sand Gnats. He went 3-for-9 with 2 doubles and an RBI.

These numbers speak loudly about his consistency, and of his high productivity through his first year of pro ball (that skyrocketed him to #4 on the Mets top 20 prospects watch).

Thoughts:

So far, it seems as if Sandy Alderson nailed this pick.

As with the Mets selection of Dominic Smith in the 2013 draft, Conforto was chosen for his slugging potential. However, as a college player, Conforto comes with far more weighted power/slugging expectations placed upon him than does Smith.

So far, he has not disappointed. I’ve been a regular at Brooklyn Cyclones games since 2001, and loved what I saw from Michael Conforto this summer. The NYPL is known as a pitcher’s league, and I’ve seen it live up to that reputation for 14 years now. That said, Conforto exhibited poise, polish, and proficiency at the plate.

As previously noted, Conforto switched from playing shortstop in high school to playing the corner outfield positions in college. His defense has been mildly criticized by scouts. In 41 games playing left field for Brooklyn, he committed 7 errors in 63 chances. In games I attended, he displayed an average arm (5 assists), and I felt he was far from being a defensive liability. I’m confident that with experience, defensive improvements will come.

In attempting to project a possible MLB debut, I’ll refer to catcher Kevin Plawecki, who was drafted out of college with the 35th overall pick (1st round) of the 2012 amateur draft. He was first sent to Brooklyn, then split the 2013 season between Low-A Savannah and High-A St. Lucie.  Last season, he played 58 games with Double-A Binghamton, and 43 games with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s. After 2 1/2 seasons in the minors, Plawecki’s MLB debut now seems imminent. With continued productivity, perhaps Michael Conforto might follow a similar time line.

Expect Conforto to begin the 2015 season with High-A St. Lucie, with a promotion to Double-A Binghamton in-season highly likely.

It will be worth watching how Sandy Alderson manages the outfield until Conforto is ready for the majors.

In 2014, center field in Flushing rapidly became a competition of one, as Juan Lagares played stellar defense and arguably exceeded offensive expectations.  Right fielder Curtis Granderson is under contract for another three seasons. The Mets are expected to address one corner outfield spot externally. If they don’t, left field will continue to have Matt den Dekker in the mix, along perhaps with Kirk Nieuwenhuis, with maybe even Cesar Puello, Brandon Nimmo (or others) vying for time in the near future.

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