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2017 Mets Season Review: Michael Conforto went from question mark to all-star to…?

Young outfielder seemed poised for stardom before devastating late-season shoulder injury.    

MLB: New York Mets at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Conforto entered spring training seemingly the victim of the front office’s irrational exuberance as to the trade value of one Jay Bruce and Terry Collins’s perpetual aversion to players on the front nine of their career. After bursting on the scene in his first full season in 2015, contributing a 2.1 fWAR over 56 games down the stretch and having a memorable World Series, Conforto did struggle in 2016, but in any rational situation, the former first-round pick and perceived building block would have had a clear path to a starting job in 2017.

Naturally, that meant Conforto entered spring seemingly destined to start 2017 back in Las Vegas, with the experienced, well-payed veteran triumvirate of Cespedes, Granderson and Bruce ticketed for the starting slots and a desire to get regular at-bats for Conforto. However, a late spring oblique injury to Juan Lagares created a crack in the roster that Conforto would burst right through.

Conforto acquitted himself solidly in April as the first bat off the bench and in a few spot starts. However, once Yoenis Cespedes suffered the first of his many leg injuries which would plague him in 2017 in late April, Conforto was thrust into a more prominent role in which he would excel, and even Terry Collins couldn’t keep the burgeoning young star tethered to the bench.

Once he started playing close to every day, Conforto looked like a star, having stretches where Mets fans could be forgiven for squinting and seeing a potential future MVP. Conforto’s excellent batting eye meant he would still contributing even amid a slump—as in June, when he hit .206 but still reached base at a .383 clip. By the break, the Mets manager was left marveling at the fact that the team’s lone All-Star representative wasn’t even starting at the beginning of the year (if only he could have had a word with whoever was making that call).

As the season slipped away from the Mets and veterans were traded off, the continued development of Conforto, wondering if he could challenge the team single season home run record, and envisioning him teaming with a healthy Cespedes as a potentially dominant 1-2 punch in 2018 seemed to be one of the few joys that would be left to Mets fans in August/September 2017. Which made the afternoon of August 24th more of a 2017 gut punch than even a Met fan could imagine.

Through 109 games and 440 plate appearances, Conforto mashed to a .279/.384/.555 slash line, recording a 4.4 fWAR to that point. In that fateful 440th appearance, Conforto swung and missed awkwardly at a Robbie Ray fastball, collapsing to the ground in pain. The freak result was a dislocated shoulder and a torn posterior capsule. Conforto underwent surgery in early September with an early recovery estimate of approximately six months.

In a season preposterously full of injuries, perhaps none was as devastating as this one—Noah Syndergaard’s was certainly more impactful for 2017, but, as a non-arm injury, felt less impactful for the franchise’s future. Conforto’s .939 OPS, .276 ISO and 146 wRC+ were all in the top 20 among MLB hitters. Yet instead of being a constant in an uncertain future, Michael Conforto is himself a bit of a question mark for 2018, as his timetable puts him in danger of missing Opening Day, and the scope of his injury adds a shadow of a question as to whether he will be able to continue to fulfill his impressive potential. If Michael Conforto is not excelling in right field by mid-to-late April of next season…things are probably not going well for the 2018 Mets.