Here’s a question: if you were drafting, say tenth overall, and the draft had some substantial weaknesses and some substantial strengths, would you grab one of the best from the weakest fields, or would you grab a better player from a stronger category, but one where there may be more depth available later on?
The Mets opted for the former, grabbing one of the few potentially impactful bats in this year’s draft class, picking Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto with that tenth overall selection. They could have picked from a very strong pitching class by grabbing either Sean Newcomb or Touki Toussaint, but instead the Mets selected perhaps the best college hitter in the class. As a pure bat, Conforto has the most present value. However, despite that, his ceiling isn’t as high as some other players who were available, and Conforto is unlikely to play any position other than left field as a pro, putting a lot of pressure on his bat to produce. It should be noted that the Mets also passed on a pair of college bats at premier positions on the defensive spectrum--shortstop Trea Turner and catcher Max Pentecost.
Most Mets fans didn’t seem too happy with the Conforto selection, so I’ll begin by talking them off the ledge. Conforto is a good left-handed hitter with a physical presence and a quiet swing. He brings plenty of size and strength to the plate, standing 6 feet, 2 inches and 215 pounds. His father was a linebacker at Penn State, and Conforto has a similar build. And as I said, there is plenty to like about his offensive potential. There aren’t many moving parts to his swing, which is a very good thing. Too many toe taps or timing mechanisms often do more to hurt than to help. He also has a fantastic approach at the plate: patient enough to take a walk and aggressive enough to swing hard when that patience produces a pitch he can drive. I think he has very good bat speed, enough to wait long enough to adjust to pitches before beginning his swing. That, paired with a strong lower body and wonderful hip rotation, give me few worries about his future power production. He has an efficient weight transfer that allows him to put some real force behind the barrel of the bat, and a high hand load provides his swing path with a clear uppercut to produce loft. I think he’ll hit 25 home runs annually as a pro.
What I’m not crazy about is his ability to hit for average. His swing path can get long, largely thanks to that deep, high hand load that allows him to hit for power. Occasionally, that can lead him into bad habits, as he’ll sometimes develop a little hitch as he moves his hands into position--the swing works much better when it’s smooth and he takes a more direct path to the ball. Otherwise, he can still use some help with his pitch recognition, but that’s true of many young hitters, even good ones. Because of these things, Conforto will strike out. I don’t think he’ll strike out 200 times, but he’s not going to be a high contact hitter in the long haul, either. I think he’ll typically hit .230-.270, though with the aforementioned secondary skills.
And then there’s defense. Conforto’s not good at it and probably never will be. I like his instincts out there--sometimes he will make some outstanding catches, catches a player with his foot speed should never be able to make--but a lack of range really hurts him. Unfortunately Conforto is no better than a fringe-average runner, and that might be a generous assessment. That limits his usefulness on the bases, and it prevents him from chasing flyballs into the gaps. And while his lack of speed won’t preclude him from right field, a lack of arm strength will. His arm is below average for me, suitable for left but nowhere else. I think he’d also be fine at first base, but at either position, there will be pressure on his bat to produce.
As for intangibles, I haven’t heard a bad word about him. He seems to be a hard worker with a knack for producing in big spots. A mild positive.
So there you have it: power and patience but questionable contact skills and little defensive value. As far as a comparison goes, I heard someone mention a left-handed hitting Nick Swisher, and I think that sounds about right, although he won’t have the same skills on defense--remember, once upon a time Swisher played center. But Conforto will have similar power, patience, and contact ability.
As far as a timetable goes, Conforto could be up sometime in 2016 if everything breaks right. He may stall for a while as he adapts to superior pitching, but I do think he’s a good bet to at least make the majors. What he does there will depend on how well he makes contact. Nothing has ruined the careers of more good hitters than contact concerns. Conforto isn’t my favorite player in the draft, and there are about half a dozen players I’d have picked first, but the Mets clearly wanted a college bat, and I do think Conforto was the best of the bunch, especially with Kyle Schwarber already off the board.