Michael Conforto is making it ‘difficult’ for Mets to complain

Sixth in a series analyzing the New York Mets.

Michael Conforto appeared to finally have it all figured out late in the 2017 season. Fresh off his first All-Star appearance, after an inexplicable sophomore slump that bounced him between Triple-A Las Vegas and Citi Field, the Mets outfielder was on his way to greatness.

Nobody can say with certainty what occurred on Aug. 24, 2017 changed Conforto’s career arc, but he still hasn’t approached his previous heights. On that day, Conforto swung and missed at a Robbie Ray pitch and crumpled to the ground in agony with a dislocated left shoulder. Conforto tore the shoulder’s posterior capsule and underwent surgery.

Conforto, 27, is still an integral piece of the Mets’ lineup, but the disappointment comes when comparing him to the star who had emerged ever so briefly three years ago.

Last season Conforto slashed .257/.363/.494 with 33 homers and 92 RBIs. The Mets also received plenty offensively from Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis, allowing Conforto to become less of a focal point in the lineup than in recent seasons.

“You just look at Conforto’s numbers and translate them from a scouting standpoint, he grades out as an above-average major league player,” a talent evaluator from a National League team said. “That would be a six [out of eight] on the grading scale, if you just look at those numbers. You have to determine whether you are happy with a six. And I think most people would be happy with a six. Is he a perennial All-Star? Probably not, but he is better than an average everyday regular, so in my mind it’s very difficult to complain about him.”

Conforto’s attributes include a compact left-handed swing and an ability to manage the strike zone.

“He takes his walks, because he knows the strike zone because he sees the ball well,” the evaluator said. “Why does he see the ball well? Because he keeps his head in a quiet position where he can see pitches and he recognizes balls that are just out of the strike zone. He’s not the kind of guy that panics a lot when he gets to two strikes, you don’t see him chase a lot. But like most hitters he’s streaky.”

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Conforto, who can become a free agent after the 2021 season, has often stated he would like to secure a long-term future with the Mets. Given the scarcity of outfield talent within the Mets farm system (among the organization’s top 15 prospects, none are outfielders according to the latest MLB.com rankings) and a thin free-agent outfield class for 2022, the team’s best option would likely be signing Conforto to an extension.

And yet, if a season is played in 2020 it will be with a drastically reduced schedule, perhaps without fans in the ballpark due to fears of spreading COVID-19. The economic fallout will be huge throughout the sport, impacting it for years to come.

“Is this a good time to try to lock up your own guys?” the talent evaluator said. “Maybe the Mets can envision getting Conforto to sign cheap, 60 cents on the dollar or whatever and give him an extra year or two, but who knows what free agency is going to look like next year or the year after?”

Defensively, Conforto has adapted to right field after spending much of his early career shuffling among the three outfield positions.

“He’s a much better defender than people give him credit for,” the evaluator said. “Is he a center fielder? Probably not. You can put him out there two days a week, but ideally it’s not where you want him. He’s an above-average major league player and I just shake my head when I hear people complain, ‘He’s overrated.’ I mean, what do you expect? Not everybody is a Hall of Famer or an All-Star. We have got to remember this is a really hard game and people don’t seem to understand that a lot of times.”

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