Name: Michael Conforto
Born: March 1, 1993 (21), Woodinville, Washington
Height/Weight: 6'2", 217 lbs
School: Oregon State University (Oregon)
High-profile athletic pursuits are no stranger to the Conforto household. Michael Conforto's sister Jacqueline played soccer for Azusa Pacific. His father, also named Michael, was a linebacker for Penn State from 1976 to 1978. Most impressive of the three, his mother, Tracie Ruiz-Conforto, is a three-time Olympic medalist, bringing home two gold medals for women's synchronized swimming in the 1984 Las Angeles games and a silver medal in the 1988 Seoul games. In high school, Michael seemed destined to follow his father into football, as he had been playing football since he was seven years old and had been a member of the Redmond High football team since his sophomore year. Ultimately, he decided to go with his second love, baseball.
"I was more of a football player for a long time", he said. "But in the end, I chose the easier route on my body."
With the way he has played, the youngster seemingly not only saved a lot of wear and tear on his body, but also set himself up for a very large paycheck this June. Despite making All-State and All-League teams as a senior and being named as one of the top players in the state of Washington by Perfect Game USA, Conforto went undrafted out of high school. He had offers from a handful of colleges but chose Oregon State University in the end, partially because one of his best friends from high school also was attending and was going to be playing on the OSU baseball team.
In his first year, Conforto was named Freshman Hitter of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, the NCAA named him Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and he received a slew of other awards and ceremonial team listings. He hit an exceptional .349/.437/.601 in 58 games. His batting average led his team, his 13 home runs tied for the lead in the 2012 Pac-12 division, and his 76 runs batted in broke the single-season OSU record.
He had success in 2013 as a sophomore, but his numbers took a step back. He had developed some bad mechanical habits during his time in Cuba with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team during the summer of 2012. Still, his .328/.447/.526 batting line was impressive, and he helped lead his team to the College World Series. For the year, he earned various awards and accolades. He played for Team USA once more, but this time returned home an improved player, so much so that the Sporting News named Conforto College Baseball Player of the Year.
The success carried on, as he hit an impressive .364/.518/.582 in 2014. With every swing he took, he increased his standing among other collegiate and high school players, and he is expected to be selected by a team somewhere near the top of the first round in the MLB Draft.
What The Scouts Think
Some other prep or collegiate players in this draft might have better individual tools or significantly higher ceilings, but Conforto just might be the best overall hitter right now who will be available in the draft. In his college career, he has shown the ability to hit for average, he has shown good plate discipline, and he has hit for power—and projects to hit for more in the future.
At the plate, Conforto has a slightly open stance. His bat speed is average, but he rotates his hips and gets his hands moving quickly, meaning he gets the barrel of the bat on the ball quickly and with force. His swing has a slight uppercut to it, giving him the ability to hit for power and opening the door for further power projection. His decreasing home run totals since 2012 have raised some questions, but many scouts see that more as an outcome of increased selectivity at the plate and not any kind of mechanical or physical red flag. His ability to drive the ball has been mostly consistent.
Some improved defense has allayed scouts' fears that he is a completely bat-first player, but even with those improvements, Conforto is probably a liability in the field. He doesn't get good reads on balls right off the bat, and his arm is fringy in the outfield. Opposing players will take advantage of it. He's had the luck of making a few flashy plays, including some web gems in the College World Series in 2013 and a few key outfield assists at critical times, but those plays are not indicative of his ability. He should rightly be relegated to left field, or if he cannot improve with better coaching and more repetitions, first base or designated hitter, where he has the least chance to hurt his team with the glove.
What Alex Nelson Thinks
Conforto is possibly the best college bat in a weak class, and I think he's benefited because of that. Possessing a solid build but fringe-average foot speed—and that may be a touch generous—Conforto is either a corner outfielder or a first baseman at the next level, so the bat absolutely needs to play. Production-wise, it certainly has done so at Oregon State, where he's shown above-average power and plenty of selectivity at the plate.
Unfortunately, I have some questions about his contact ability thanks to a very deep and vertical hand load that doesn't allow him to utilize his outstanding natural bat speed properly. This prevents him from making adjustments to breaking pitches, and that'll mean that strikeouts will always be a part of his game. He'll also need to watch his stride, which can be a little over-aggressive, impeding his balance at the plate. I love the power—he could hit 25 homers a year—and patience but worry he'll be a left fielder who struggles to hit .250. If he improves his arm accuracy, he may have the arm for right, but there will still be plenty of an onus on him to hit.
"There are very few players that have the ‘it factor'. Michael has it...He's going to be a big league player. I'm not always right about that, but I have a good feeling this guy has what it takes. Not only the tools, but the makeup. The guys who have both of them offer a pretty lethal combination."