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Conforto Roars Back!

He hits! He fields! He runs...well...he doesn’t run so much.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Boston Red Sox
Conforto Goes Yard Against Boston
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

To paraphrase the late, great, Darrell Aune:

Michael Conforto is red hot and rolllllllling.

Beset by injuries, and desperate for some timely hitting, New York Mets Manager Terry Collins has turned to an unlikely hero: lead-off hitter Michael Conforto. In the early going, Conforto has rewarded him with a robust .325/.396/.650 line, including 4 home runs. Those are good numbers for a guy who would’ve needed a fake ID to buy beer until three years ago. Heck, those are good numbers for Young Darryl Strawberry.

What’s that? Can I repeat that? Lead-off hitter Michael Conforto? Yep, you heard me.

And, yes, this is the same Michael Conforto who thrilled crowds at Goss Stadium for three years. The one who has never stolen more than 3 bases in a season. The leftfield-by-way-of-linebacker who dominated Pac-12 pitching for three years.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

If he doesn’t look like a lead-off hitter to you, or to me, neither does he look like one to the Mets faithful. But guess what? They. Don’t. Care.

With Jose Reyes hitting .114 through 70 ABs, Collins has been forced to think outside the box. This spring the Mets affirmed that Conforto was very much in their long-term plans, despite a disappointing 2016 season which saw his temporary demotion to AAA, but what his role would be in 2017 was unclear.

He played sparingly for the first several games, and hit well, but since being given the opportunity to hit from the top spot in the lineup, he’s caught fire.

Any Oregon State fan will remember the widely-circulated scouting reports on Conforto from after his junior season. Can’t run. Can’t hit for average. Can’t play defense. This didn’t sound much like the player we’d grown used to watching. We knew he could hit. We knew he could play defense—certainly better defense than he was being given credit for. His success in 2015 was surprising only in how quickly it came.

But a lead-off hitter in the majors, at the age of 24? I doubt any of us would have seen that coming.

So, to review:

Conforto is hitting for power, and he’s hitting for average. In the first month of the season, he’s even limiting his strikeouts to only 18%. This is all encouraging for a young player, and as it turns out, he can even play some defense. Not just anecdotally, either.

So far in his brief career—and according to the sabermetricians—he’s saved 10 more runs than the average outfielder. He’s also showcased his arm to good effect on a number of occasions. After reportedly showing up in the best shape of his life, Conforto has even been getting some innings in center field.

All of this said, Conforto probably shouldn’t get too used to batting at the top of the order. Jose Reyes will snap out of his funk eventually and when he does, Conforto will likely make way for him.

At its simplest, the math goes something like this:

  1. Terry Collins likes veterans.
  2. Jose Reyes is a veteran.
  3. Michael Conforto is not a veteran.

So, Reyes will get his chance to reclaim the top spot in the Met lineup. He looks like a lead off hitter. He plays like a lead off hitter. Conforto, well, he doesn’t.

For now, however, that doesn’t matter, and as long as Conforto keeps swinging a hot bat and playing solid defense it’ll take a lot of courage to pluck him from the everyday lineup.

Keep your eye out for more on Conforto as the season unfolds.

And, as always, GO BEAVS.