New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto enters 2019 with lofty expectations. He could even surpass them and take home the National League MVP.
After 57 seasons of baseball, the New York Mets are just one of three major league teams to never have an MVP winner. Jacob deGrom’s 2018 campaign was enough to earn him a Cy Young award and a fifth-place finish in the MVP voting. deGrom was the only player besides Christian Yelich, the eventual winner, to receive a first-place vote.
While the Mets have had their share of All-Star and even Hall of Fame players (16 to be exact) suit up for the club, no player has ever taken home the most prized individual award. Several Mets have come close; Tom Seaver finished second in 1968 and Keith Hernandez finished second in 1984. Darryl Strawberry had his share of the MVP vote in 1988 but ultimately came up short when Kirk Gibson came away with the award.
Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, and even Kevin McReynolds have all taken fifth place in the voting at one point during their career. More recently, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Mike Piazza have come up short. It should be mentioned that Howard Johnson finished fifth two times during his Mets tenure.
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This takes us right into the conversation of who will be the first Mets player to win the award. Michael Conforto is poised for a big season in 2019 and should be seen as a serious contender for NL MVP.
When the Mets selected Conforto 10th overall in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, scouts raved about his maturity at the plate and the raw power that he displayed throughout his tenure with the Oregon State Beavers. He was viewed by many as the best pure hitter in that draft class and despite skepticism from scouts, has shown that he has been able to play a steady outfield.
With the injury to Juan Lagares and the shaky centerfield defense from Yoenis Cespedes the previous season, Conforto was forced to play out of his natural position for most of the season. While the bulk of his games came in left, Conforto had to man center for 58 games. Scouting reports proved to have been inaccurate as he was overall very solid in the outfield owning a .990 fielding percentage.
Although he didn’t always have a good first step, Conforto was constantly making acrobatic catches and gunning down runners with his above-average arm (Conforto totaled 5 outfield assists). After making his first All-Star team in 2017, Conforto suffered a torn capsule in his left shoulder during an at-bat in a game late in August.
Most people didn’t expect Conforto to return until the All-Star break if at all during the 2018 season but a speedy recovery allowed him to make the season opener against the Washington Nationals. While he may have homered that game, it was a rough start to the season for Conforto; his strikeouts were high and he was pulling the ball at a high frequency. Michael went on to hit .198 in June with more strikeouts than hits.
In the second half, Conforto began to pick it up bringing his average up to .243 for the season. Conforto’s 17 HRs and 52 RBI were among the league leaders after the All-Star Game and his confidence was starting to show once again. Conforto is at his best when he hit the ball to all fields, with his home runs scattered across the outfield.
Mickey Callaway stayed true to his word and played Conforto against lefties. Despite struggles early in his career against left-handers, Conforto seems to have settled in posting a .808 OPS against left-handed pitching. 2018 should be considered the floor for Conforto’s production.
The key to a monster 2018 season will be his ability to cut down on strikeouts. Conforto needs to stop chasing breaking balls in the dirt and high fastballs. If he is patient and waits for pitches on the outer half and low, he will be successful as a hitter.
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At just age 25, Conforto is a multi-dimensional player who is a pivotal part of the Mets’ long term plan. While his first half struggles shouldn’t be discounted, it should also be taken into account that he was recovering from shoulder surgery to repair a torn capsule. Yelich, Nolan Arenado, and Javier Baez look to face off once again for MVP in 2019 but they should not forget about number 30 in flushing who can potentially surpass them all.