Michael Conforto is enjoying a truly rare circumstance he’s in this season
Six months ago to the day, the 22-year-old Michael Conforto, who had approximately three months of professional service under his belt, was hitting .324/.414/.608 with six home runs and 19 RBI in the pitcher-friendly depths of the Florida State League, enduring bus trips up, down and across the state of Florida while he wondered when – or if – he would get his next promotion in the near future.
His performance in Single-A St. Lucie had reached a point opposing pitchers would stop pitching to him, taking the bat out of his hands so he couldn’t cause more ERA inflation.
And so a month later, the Mets decided it was time to test the prodigy’s skills at Double-A Binghamton.
He only got better from there in what is widely considered the most difficult jump in the minor leagues to adjust to.
He hit .312/.396/.503 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 197 plate appearances for about seven weeks with Double-A Binghamton when suddenly there was a dire need for both a left fielder and simply an offensive upgrade at the big league level.
The Mets internally debated whether or not Conforto was the guy who could provide such a fix for the team. Sandy Alderson himself publicly expressed his concerns over whether or not it would be a good idea to promote the 22-year-old, who lacked sizable experience in professional baseball and had only spent the sum total of 3 1/2 months above Low-A Brooklyn.
But the Mets decided to take a risk on Conforto, had him skip Triple-A and brought him in as Michael Cuddyer’s temporary (at the time) replacement while Cuddyer allowed the bone bruise in his knee to heal.
More or less, Cuddyer got “Wally Pipp’d” by Conforto when he returned from the disabled list, being relegated to a platoon with his younger counterpart who continued to excel at the big league level despite the doubts, concerns, his limited experience, and untrained big league eye.
And here he is, the likely starting left fielder for the Mets in the 2015 World Series, once again just six months after enduring those long bus rides in the humidity of the Florida State League.
“Not very often do you start out the year in A-ball and end up in the World Series,” manager Terry Collins explained on Monday in Kansas City. “[Conforto is] in a unique situation, and he should be very proud of how hard he worked this year, and the fact that he gets this opportunity.”
Indeed, Conforto is a tireless worker at his craft. He’s constantly in the cage, both indoors and out, watching video, studying pitchers and the art of hitting as he works to constantly refine his artistic swing from the left side of the plate.
But through all of that work he’s put in to get to this stage so quickly in his young but promising career, Conforto himself often can’t grasp how quickly things have transpired for him so far/
“Surreal is a great way to describe it,” Conforto told Newsday on Monday. “It’s all happened so fast. It really just feels like yesterday I was called up and was playing my first game in the big leagues [July 24].”
Conforto will make some history when he makes his World Series debut on Tuesday night. He will become only the third person to play in the Little League, College and Major League World Series in baseball history.
But Conforto says there’s no comparing those experience to what he’s about to do with the Mets.
“This one takes the cake,” Conforto said. “The feelings are similar, that’s for sure. But it’s completely different when you’re at the top of your sport. This is it, the highest level in the world in your sport. Thinking about that is pretty cool.”
All of the talk has been around the additions of Yoenis Cespedes, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard, and Addison Reed as it pertains to the team’s renaissance during the latter portion of the summer.
But Conforto has been an underrated addition to this Mets since he arrived. He provided stability and a surprisingly good glove to the club’s outfield, producing an .841 OPS in 55 games down the stretch of the season. That in turn allowed the Mets to get more out of Cuddyer by playing him less, and he too became more productive, producing an .840 OPS in his final 42 games of the year.
But Conforto’s exposure has been limited strictly to right-handed pitching, The main reason, according to his manager, is the roster and system in place is designed to be maximized depending on the matchup.
And the club’s thinking simply is to not fix what isn’t broken.
That’s not to say Conforto can’t hit left-handed pitching. In fact, his brief history in the minor leagues suggest he can. But that will wait until next year, Collins said earlier this month.
“Michael Conforto is going to be a very good player, and next year he’s going to be an everyday player,” Collins said in early October.
Conforto stands to play most of the time during the World Series, given the lack of left-handed pitching on the Royals roster. But as he’s done through this entire ride at the big league level and into the World Series, he’s just savoring the moment and taking advantage of any opportunity he receives.
“I’m trying to enjoy it and take in as much as I can, but I definitely feel prepared and ready to go,” Conforto said.
He now has a chance to go where so few have gone with this organization, and that is up the Canyon of Heroes.