The Mets are considering having Michael Conforto play center field against right-handed starters as soon as this week, partly to accommodate the wishes of Yoenis Cespedes. Conforto, who has never played a game in center field as a professional, seems open to the idea, as he told the Bergen Record’s Matt Ehalt, "If the team needs me there, I’m going to do whatever I can to be ready.”
On Sunday, Cespedes announced that he would prefer to play left field, as his legs are not fully healthy. This creates a logjam in the Mets’ outfield, as they want to put forward their best lineup, while also not having players playing (too far) out of position.
While Conforto has been something of a pleasant surprise in left field, that is because the expectation for him was so low. When the Mets drafted Conforto, the Amazin’ Avenue draft report said, in regards to his defense, “Conforto’s not good at it and probably never will be.” While he hasn’t exactly been Lucas Duda in left field, he also hasn’t been Yoenis Cespedes, who won the American League Gold Glove in left last season. Conforto rejoined the major league squad on Monday, after a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas after a prolonged slump.
Though Curtis Granderson played center field for many years, the team seems to think he no longer has the defensive acumen to play there with any sort of regularity, and the numbers back them up. The best center fielder on the team, hands down, is Juan Lagares, but he is the least potent of the four bats in this conversation, and will most likely be Conforto’s platoon partner in center, if that comes to pass. Note that no one is advocating for Alejandro De Aza to get more playing time in center.
The other problem with this plan is that, if the Mets truly believe that Conforto is going to be a cornerstone of their lineup going forward, they need to let him start hitting against left-handed pitching, something he has done precious little in his career, and something that this plan still does not allow for. While he has 376 plate appearances against righties, Conforto has only seen a left-handed started in 62 plate appearances in the majors.
Conforto last played center field while attending Oregon State, from which he graduated in 2014.