|Michael Conforto's player card from milb.com|
Why? He does not have enough playing time against good competition to make a promotion anything other than a massive unnecessary risk.
I am all about the 2015 Mets. I strongly believe that the Mets could be the most dangerous team in baseball in the playoffs given the starting pitching on the big league club. I believe the Mets should "go for it" in 2015 and turn this franchise into a winning one again. However, I will not sacrifice the future--especially when it comes to moves that have far more risk than reward.
The one move that seems to be encouraged that I am strongly opposed to is promoting Michael Conforto straight from double-A to the big league club to play left field. Could Conforto handle the big leagues at this point? Possibly. Would he struggle? Probably.
Because of a debut in Brooklyn last year instead of a higher level, Conforto does not have many at bats above A-ball. You need your prospects to have as much experience above A-ball as possible before they get to the big leagues. At this point, Michael Conforto has not faced much competition that would give him problems. There is no magic number here, but I guarantee you 160 double-A at bats and zero triple-A at bats is not enough.
"But he has been so good after the jump to double-A, what makes you think he would not be able to survive the leap to the MLB?"
He has been good. Michael Conforto has played very very well all year and especially so once reaching Binghamton and the Eastern League--the jump that often trips up even the best of prospects. However, there are concerns that you might not be able to see from watching the box score every night.
2014: 15.6% (Brooklyn/low-A)
2015: 12.6% (St. Lucie/high-A)
2015: 20.0% (Binghamton/double-A)
Binghamton is a tough jump. It is a much better league than the levels behind it and the jump from St. Lucie to Binghamton is often condsidered a bigger one than any other level jump in the Mets system. Conforto is struggling to make the same contact he was making in A-ball. Most players do not hit better pitching as well as they hit inferior pitching. This makes sense. Conforto will need to adjust to this better pitching. He needs time to prove he can do that. He is still two levels away from the big leagues, after all.
"Okay, he struck out more. 20% still is not that bad and he is crushing it. What gives?"
His batting average does not tell the entire story.
BABIP (batting average of balls in play):
2014: .383 (.331 average)
2015: .294 (.283 average, St. Lucie stint)
2015: .387 (.312 average, Binghamton stint)
He is running a very high BABIP but has not sustained the average as well as he did last year (when he also had a very high BABIP). This will regress. A correction is coming.
Home run rate:
After hitting seven home runs in 206 at bats at St. Lucie, Conforto has hit just three in 160 at bats in Binghamton. His power has not taken a step back by overall numbers (ISO and SLG% for example) but some of that is BABIP-aided and a player like Conforto does need to contribute via the long ball to reach his ceiling. Three homers in 160 at bats projects to about 12 over the course of the season. That is Daniel Murphy power.
Do not interpret any of the above as an indictment of Michael Conforto's skill. He is a special player who has true All-Star potential and is one of the most exciting bats to come through the farm system in a long time. He is just not ready for a jump to Triple-A yet and certainly should not be a candidate for the Mets 25-man roster.
As a loosely related tangent to this article, the more I analyze players like Conforto, the more and more I get frustrated that Las Vegas is the last stop Mets prospects have before reaching the big leagues.
Let's say Conforto adjusts to double-A and starts hitting for power and average without batted ball luck. He starts "crushing it", so to speak. The next logical step is to move him to Las Vegas, let him face pitching that is closer to what he will see in the major leagues and let him adjust to that jump in talent as well. But how? Let's say he gets there and faces Jon Gray--a bright young pitcher in the Colorado Rockies organization. Gray has a major league fastball that some scouts grade as an 80 pitch. Conforto would face him in the PCL. He'll get under a high fastball and fly it to the outfield. Instead of a teachable moment after a lazy fly ball that would send Conforto back to the dugout with something to think about, the ball will carry in the dry air of the desert all the way over the wall and Conforto will take his trip around the bases. After all, this is the league that allowed Wilfredo Tovar to have a two-homer game. Tovar wouldn't be able to hit a home run out of the field they use for the Celebrity Soft Ball game during the All-Star Game festivities much less a full professional park. Tovar hit two in the same game in Albuquerque against the Isotopes--the Rockies PCL affiliate that Jon Gray pitches for.
Diatribe about the uselessness of the PCL for developing talent aside, Conforto needs much more time in the minors before he is ready to face the Scherzers and Kershaws of the world. I do not recommend that time come in Las Vegas, but the rest of the season in Binghamton would do him well. Let him face some nasty top prospects in the Eastern League. Let him learn more about the game and get needed reps against good competition. Then, when the rosters expand, give him a shot. But only if he has demonstrated the ability we need to see from him in double-A. Otherwise, you risk throwing an unready player into a pennant race (a guy can dream, right?) which can have damaging effects on both player psyche as well as overall tool/skill development.
As far as left field for 2015 is concerned, hope that Michael Cuddyer can remember why he is getting paid millions of dollars or, if you are dead set on a prospect taking over, hope that Brandon Nimmo is ready. To me, he is further along in the development process than Conforto. I would rather both have the next couple months at double-A.
This is not the popular opinion. Then again, when do I ever cater to that? Let me know what you think in the comments.