Posted by Ernest Dove at 10:00 AM
So, was that a sexy enough title for you?
I've written in the past about recent postseason surprises, and the 'under age 26' studs who became stars in the postseason. So I wanted to further shed some light on the recent emergence of rookie Michael Conforto, and discuss thoughts on whether or not he can continue his surprising emergence right through the October.
Rookies come into this league with all different types of expectations, projections, development and performance. Conforto has quickly broke the mold with his own specific meteoric rise through the system and onto the big stage.
Many of us all know about the rise of then 24 year old Bumgarner, who took the hearts of all of the west coast, and true baseball fans alike with his incredible run through the 2014 postseason. he put up video game numbers throughout the playoffs, including an ERA under 0.50 while heading along his way right into being named MVP of the world series. I bring this up not only to shine light on his performance, but to also quietly mention another San Francisco Giant who's had his own share of success at an early age, as a hitter. One Buster Posey.
Long before Bumgarner was dominating players older then him on the big stage, a then 23 year old Posey showed up in the postseason of 2010 and proceeded to hit .375 against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. After struggling against the Phillies (wait, the Phillies?) in the NLCS that year, Buster Posey showed out on baseball's biggest stage and hit .300 with a homer in the world series against the Texas Rangers.
I bring this up because honestly, you just never know. Young stars of the game can look like stars early on. They can also randomly show up at random ages and hype (see David Freese) to perform above and beyond expectations when it counts the most. The Mets themselves are projected to be on a collision course to face the 'money is no object' Dodgers and their aces which includes Clayton Kershaw, who many agree is the best lefty in baseball, and possibly already one of the best lefties of our generation. However, along with being 'great' and along with being extremely high paid,
Kershaw also quietly (or not quietly if you're a Dodgers fan) sports a career 5.13 ERA and 1.235 WHIP in the postseason which spans from the tender age of 20 all the way into his age 26 year.
So, what do the Mets have here in Michael Conforto? Well, for starters, they have a 22 year old who is not even supposed to be on the roster. The Mets entered the 2015 season with a reigning Gold Glove winner in Center, a disappointing yet HIGHLY paid Granderson in Right, and a new veteran 8 figure man paid to patrol Left. There have definitely many differences in opinion on Conforto since being drafted. It starts with some even questioning the draft pick in the first place. It then continues on from the aftermath of the trade, public decries by Sandy Alderson and company that Conforto was an 'advanced bat' who would move quickly through the system. Only to then leave the College hitter in a half season league playing for the Cyclones right up until the end of 2014.
Then, much to the dismay of some hardcore followers of minor league ball and its top players, Conforto showed up as a 22 year old down in Port St. Lucie instead of maybe an aggressive placement all the way onto the AA 'show me' level of professional baseball. And then, from there, we know that he began to completely dominate A ball pitching, leading to numerous walks, avoidance of facing him, and even a lull during the season in performance before regaining his swagger right into that AA level. Then, while dominating for Bingo right from day one, the issues continued for the Mets. The rumors had already begun regarding Lagares and his elbow, to go along with his sophomore slump type hitting and fielding. Granderson was starting to show off and finally (in the eyes of many) earn his big contract, while also however neglect to remember how to hit lefty pitchers. Then there is Michael Cuddyer, the 8 figure contract man brought in to bring pop to the lineup. He then proceeded to have trouble hitting for power, average and pretty much in any situation early on.
As the outcries got louder, the poor performances continues from many, including the bench players in the outfield including captain Kirk, Soup and pretty much anyone and everyone they tried and could squeeze onto the 40 man and 25 man during the season. Then, finally, a wish of many came true. The man, the myth, the legend was called up. Ok, I'm exaggerating, but it sounds fun to write that. Michael Conforto, unlike every recent first round pick drafted by the Mets since Sandy and company took over, was a top hitting prospect who actually seems ready to play NOW at the major league level. However, the problem was that he has only faced AA pitchers. Heck, no matter how many times they tried to demote/promote the man to AAA something would pop up to prevent it (long live Cuddyer bulky knee?).
So now what do we have? We have a still 22 year old lefty who has put up video game number to the tune of around.400BA in the past few weeks, mostly facing opposing right handed pitchers. Conforto has immediately showed patience at the plate, an ability to hit for average, hit for power, and use all fields. Heck, even when teams tried to immediately go with a shift against him early one, he quickly nixed that idea for all further opposing teams by whacking a few balls opposite field. What we now have is a budding star. Or do we?
We often talked amongst ourselves and throughout other forms social media about our thoughts on players, regardless of age, getting their chance to shine, and to hell with pitch counts, limitations, post surgeries and the like. There's no sophomore slump for a player who is still eligible for rookie status possibly into next year. And, unlike the young guns in the rotation, Conforto is man without any proposed limitations or need for close monitoring or innings cap. So, should the Mets ride this young man into the sunset?
The recent chatter on Macks Mets has been all about the 'platoon'. Conforto, despite the on-field proof at the major league level of readiness, is continuing to be set up to succeed by hitting only against right handed pitchers. Yes, his minor league stats show a man who has no issues hitting lefties. However, the key word is 'minor' as far as league. Not only that, we are talking about AA level minors. Yes, we can also very much argue the importance of AAA as a level, and the theory that most teams perceive AA to be that show me level where every top prospect can and must succeed and be given at bats as opposed to the 'pit stop' level of AAA. However, even my non expert eyes can see that Conforto mashing 89MPH fastballs down in port st lucie is a lot different than facing Clayton Kershaw in the majors. (I'm mentioning A ball because I never got to see Conforto LIVE in AA, only at A ball level and spring training).
What do you think the Mets should do? There's definitely a history in baseball of young players, regarding of young age and experience, seemingly being unhittable as a pitcher and impossible to consistently get out as a hitter. Does Conforto fit into the latter?
Along with the Mets continuing to strategize and devise plans for skipping starts of the stud arms, I'm curious to see if Terry and the coaching staff find ways to crowbar Conforto into starts or at least at bats against more lefty pitchers prior to start of the postseason. I myself have mentioned my dream scenario of Mets entering that final series against the Nationals with at least a 4 game lead, which would allow for all the arms to rest. So, in the same breath, why not also mention the opportunity for a young stud hitter to get starts and at bats against remaining lefty they can find on the schedule and calendar during those last couple of weeks as well, even if they do remain cautious about his exposure to southpaws, justified for not.
Again, we can argue all day about overall ability, star power, and Conforto overall skill level already. However, if the Mets want to curtail random starts by Thor on the road, utilize Ruben (Rodney) Tejada during every Niese start, and keep giving Lagares a chance against opposing lefties, why not continue to ride with what is working? And, why not then perhaps squeeze in a few lefty lefty matchups towards the end and take all the remaining training wheels off come October and see what happens?
Opposing teams, specifically strong playoff opposing teams, can certainly game plan against young players. However, how about a counter game plan which can hopefully include hitting Conforto around healthy and productive players like Murph, Duda and Travis. There's only so many breaking pitches and just out of the zone pitches that can be thrown to a rookie who has already proven an eagle eye, and also hopefully a power bat right behind him. Anything can happen in the postseason. Perhaps a star is already born. Perhaps that star will shine in front of all of America on national television.
What say you Mets fans?