When you grow up in a family full of die-hard baseball fans, a nice family gathering can turn into a heated sports debate in a moment’s notice. So, when the Mets were struggling offensively early last summer, a small argument with my uncle ensued at my aunt’s birthday party: Should the Mets call up Michael Conforto? I argued strongly that the answer was no. You don’t call up a 22-year-old kid with 45 games above A-ball to be a savior. I cited stats. I noted other prospects who were rushed to the majors, only to see their development stunted. I pleaded with my uncle to think of Conforto’s long-term development. But, he would have none of it. “Call him up. Immediately. What’s the worst that happens?”
Fortunately for the Mets and unfortunately for me (because of the ribbing I’ll have to endure at future family functions), my uncle was right. The Mets called up Conforto, he thrived, and the Mets reached the World Series. Coming into this year, Conforto was thought of as a nice lower-tier outfielder. Someone you could draft in a round ending with a “teen” and put in your fourth outfield slot. Sure, he’d bat sixth and sit against lefties, but he might provide some decent production. Yet here we are, a month into the season, and Conforto is playing like a superstar. He and Yoenis Cespedes are carrying the Mets’ offense. He’s hitting doubles like they’re going out of style. But he can’t be this good, can he?
Get free start/sit and waiver wire advice for your fantasy team >>
Wrong. He can be this good. He is ALREADY this good. It doesn’t matter if you want to look at the surface numbers or dig through the advanced stats. Michael Conforto is a superstar – both real and fantasy – and I’m not sure if too many people other than Mets fans know it.
First, if you watch Conforto (other than against Madison Bumgarner!), you do not feel like you’re watching a kid with fewer than 300 plate appearances in the majors. He looks eminently comfortable. His swing looks like it was designed by the baseball gods because they needed something perfect to watch from a left-handed hitter after Ken Griffey, Jr. retired. His bat stays in the zone for what feels like an eternity. He is rarely fooled.
If you asked a non-Conforto owner how you thought he was doing this season, I bet most of them would say something like, “He’s off to a pretty decent start, isn’t he?” Yeah, you could say that. Entering Monday’s game, Conforto was on pace for the following numbers: .341, 108 runs, 122 RBI, 27 home runs, and seven steals. Plus 74 doubles. Oh, and he’s sitting with a tidy 1.037 OPS. I mean, come on. Those are video game numbers. So, it’s fair to say that Conforto is currently playing at an elite level.
So, what’s behind the hot start? It’s pretty simple, actually. He’s hitting the ball hard and he doesn’t really have any holes in his swing. Conforto has a 50% hard-hit rate according to Fangraphs, highest in the majors by far. And he is hitting .310 or better in all four quadrants of the strike zone according to Mark Simon of ESPN.com. So, yeah. When you can hit the ball wherever it’s pitched, and pretty much everything you hit is hard, you’re going to have some success.
Ok, so it’s clear, Conforto’s numbers on the young season are great and, so far, they’re not fluky. But, one great month does not a superstar make. What makes me think this is going to continue? Well, here is where Conforto’s greatness truly lies. Last season, Conforto pulled the ball quite a bit. Not surprisingly, other teams have shifted on him in more than half his plate appearances in 2016. Over the past several years, as shifts have become more commonplace, we’ve all seen countless ballplayers refuse to change their approach when confronted with shifts, only to watch their batting averages plummet. So, what does young Mr. Conforto do? Oh, nothing much. He just drastically ups the percentage of balls he hits to the opposite field from 19.7% in 2015 to 33.9% in 2016.
I’ll let that sink in for a second. Let’s be clear. That’s not luck. That’s not an accident. That’s not something that just happens. That’s an elite hitter making a concerted effort to become better, and rapidly succeeding. Conforto’s success in 2016 is not a fluke. Michael Conforto is, simply put, a superstar.
Look, I’m a Mets fan. I remember the day the Mets drafted Conforto and wondering how he slipped all the way to the 10th pick. I root for him and I root for the team. So, if you want to discount this entire article as the ravings of a biased fan, I won’t blame you. But, if we play in a league together next year, you’d better be prepared to draft Conforto in the first or second round. Otherwise, he’ll be on my team, and I’ll gladly ride him to a fantasy championship (and, with any luck, to a World Series championship as well).
Dan Fisher is a correspondent with FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive or follow him @dfisher80.