Michael Conforto has two weeks to prove he belongs with the Mets


Back in 1980, one of Frank Cashen’s first acts as newly appointed general manager of the New York Mets was drafting a tall, lean, lefty-swinging teenager from Crenshaw HS in Los Angeles with the first overall selection of that year’s June amateur draft.

No one really knew what the club had when they drafted Darryl Strawberry, but, by 1982 Mets fans gained a much better understanding.  In 129 games for (AA)-Jackson, Strawberry, then 20-years old, hit 34 home runs and drove in 97 runs.

Meanwhile, the parent club posted their 6th straight losing season, finishing in last place of the N.L. East with a 65-97 record.

The ensuing 1983 season started just like every other had since the 1977 downturn.  By May 4th, the Mets were just 6-15, and in 5th place of the N.L. East.  Down below, however, Darryl Strawberry was batting .333 and slugging .596 through 16 games with (AAA)-Tidewater, with 3 home runs and 13 RBI.

On May 6th, Strawberry’s long anticipated call-up finally came.  Darryl debuted in a Friday evening (13-inning) 7-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in front of just 15,916 fans at Shea Stadium.  He went 0 for 4, with 2 walks and 3 strikeouts.

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Strawberry managed just 2 hits in his first 20 MLB at-bats, and struck out 11 times.  The N.Y.C. media tripped over themselves trying to compare Darryl’s initial struggles with those of Hall of Famer Willie Mays, whom started his MLB career a mere 1 for 26 back in 1951 with the (then) New York Giants.

Darryl proceeded to go 9 for his first 50 at-bats, with 2 doubles, 3 home runs and 8 RBI, and fanned a whopping 19 times.  For old time sake, the 20-year old Say Hey Kid went 10 for his first 50 at-bats, with 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 7 RBI, but only fanned 5 times.

Although Darryl Strawberry‘ promotion in 1983, and the acquisition of Keith Hernandez shortly thereafter, did much to change the general atmosphere and future outlook at Shea, they did little towards changing the Mets standing that season, whom finished with only a marginally improved 68-94 record.

As present day fans are well aware, the Mets posted 6 straight losing seasons prior to this 2015 campaign.  With this year’s non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, the Mets found themselves within legitimate reach of the N.L. East, and Wild Card leaders, which in turn demanded immediate supportive action on behalf of upper management.

On Friday evening, the front office provided just that.  Sandy Alderson acquired major league veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for 2 minor league players.  In light of Michael Cuddyer‘s knee injury, Sandy Alderson also called up the Mets highly touted outfield prospect from (AA)-Binghamton.

The club selected college outfielder Michael Conforto with the 10th overall pick of last year’s June amateur draft.  After just 133 minor league games, including this season’s 46 games with (AA)-Binghamton, Conforto debuted for the Mets Friday evening in front of 36,066 wildly appreciative fans at Citi Field.

Despite New York’s 7-2 loss against the Dodgers, Conforto became the Mets 1,000th player in their history, and collected his first MLB run batted in.

Whether by coincidence or intervening fate, Conforto’s breakout performance was withheld until Saturday, when his family was able to finally catch up with his sudden promotion to Flushing.  During the Mets lopsided 15-2 victory, Michael went 4 for 4, with 4 runs scored, 2 doubles, a walk, and registered his second major league RBI.

In Sunday afternoon’s game, Conforto was fanned for the first time by L.A.’s Zack Greinke, whom also authored Conforto’s first HBP with the bases loaded, thus giving him his third major league RBI.

As the old baseball adage goes: one player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.  Michael Conforto now has until Michael Cuddyer‘s return from the disabled list to convince Sandy Alderson that he belongs in the major leagues.

In light of Cuddyer’s poor productivity, I feel Alderson should at least entertain the idea of a platoon in left field.  Cuddyer’s contract should be viewed as money already spent, and so, in no way should influence playing time – not at this critical juncture of a competitive season.

However, the recent acquisitions of Uribe and Johnson now limit roster maneuverability, which will likely force Michael Conforto back to the minors regardless of performance.  Moreover, scuttlebutt says Sandy Alderson may not be done dealing yet.  He has 5 more days, then, to negotiate.

In any event, the onus is still on Alderson and players not named Michael Conforto, to ensure the Mets end-of-month series against the Washington Nationals remains a meaningful one.

With any luck, though, Michael Conforto can help lead the way.  But, if his near disastrous collision with Ruben Tejada is any indication, he’ll need all the luck he can get.

Loosely speaking, somewhere in between the respective debuts of Darryl Strawberry and Willie Mays lies Michael Conforto’s potential narrative.

Darryl Stawberry’s arrival coincided with Catch the Rising Stars.  He was the product of a grass-roots rebuilding effort, much like the one initiated by Sandy Alderson.  Both Strawberry’s and Conforto’s respective arrivals in Flushing similarly came on the heels of 6 straight losing seasons, with a fan base clamoring for changes.

Meanwhile, Willie Mays debuted for the eventual National League champs, and was the on-deck hitter when Bobby Thompson hit his famous Shot Heard ‘Round the World off Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca, advancing the Giants into the World Series.

Conforto merely joins a Mets team attempting to capture their first division flag since 2006, but is nonetheless faced with a fan base in desperate search of their own Say Hey Kid.