The New York Mets are coming off a disappointing season. From the litany of injuries to the frustrating offensive struggles, 2016 was a year to forget. No one wants to put last season in the rear view mirror more than Michael Conforto. The 2014 first-round pick suffered through a proverbial “sophomore slump” after a promising freshman campaign in 2015.
Conforto hit .270 in 174 at-bats in 2015, knocking nine home runs, 14 doubles and 26 runs batted in. In contrast, he hit .220 in 304 at-bats in 2016, notching 12 home runs, 21 doubles and 42 RBI. Despite over 100 more at-bats, he did not improve his totals as much he would have liked.
That fact is not lost on the 23-year-old outfielder. He called last season “a “wake-up call” from which he needed offseason time to reflect. “It was a combination of things,” Conforto told Marc Carig of Newsday. “There was a little of some expectations, trying to do too much up there.”
His struggles resulted in multiple stints in Triple-A Las Vegas, as he worked to improve his game.
Fortunately, Conforto has been working diligently on his swing this offseason with hitting coaches Kevin Long and Pat Roessler.
Most notable could be his fitness, which he says left him feeling “a little soft” towards the end of last year. He arrived in Port St. Lucie last week with a slimmer physique and a renewed confidence.
At the same time, Conforto’s outfield spot is in jeopardy after the Mets chose to keep Jay Bruce in right field.
Juan Lagares appears to be ahead of Conforto on the Mets’ depth chart and could start as the Mets’ fourth outfielder. The 2014 Gold Glove winner does not possess the same offensive potential but is still an important role player on the team.
Terry Collins stated his intention to use Conforto in the outfield instead of at first base during Spring Training. Jay Bruce will see some time at first, while Conforto will get reps in center field.
TC wants to leave Conforto in the outfield. Could see some CF action. But TC seems less inclined to try him at first.
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) February 13, 2017
General manager Sandy Alderson was noncommittal on Conforto’s role in 2017. “Unless we have a clear avenue for Conforto to play on an almost everyday basis we’re going to have to make some decisions in Spring Training,” he told the New York Daily News last week. “I think he has the potential to be a very versatile player and a good offensive player across the board.”
Is that vote of confidence enough to earn Conforto a spot on the starting roster in 2017? Conforto remains hopeful.
“There’s going to be tough decisions,” Conforto told Carig. “Nothing’s handed to you up here in the big leagues, so I’m fully prepared to earn everything that I get.”
Jesse Andreozzi is a staff writer at Outside Pitch Sports Network covering the New York Mets. Follow him on Twitter @Jesse_Andreozzi