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Michael Conforto deserves a starting spot with the Mets in 2017

The young left-handed hitter is the future of the Mets’ outfield.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After a strong debut with the Mets in 2015, Michael Conforto got off to a legendary start in 2016, producing a 196 wRC+ in March and April. Unfortunately, things went downhill quickly from there, as a lingering wrist injury sapped Conforto’s elite exit velocity and drove his production into the dirt over the next two months. Conforto spent much of the summer shuttling between Triple-A and the majors, performing tremendously in Las Vegas (221 wRC+) and less so with the Mets (96 wRC+). After the trade deadline he was replaced in the lineup with Jay Bruce, who never managed to get his bat going.

Though 2016 certainly wasn’t the season that many hoped to see from Conforto, there’s no reason to write him off as a long-term, high-level contributor for the Mets. Alter the timeline a little bit and you have a 24-year-old outfielder who has dominated the minor leagues, been a mixed bag in the big leagues, and possesses above-average offensive tools across the board—a profile that often describes some of the top prospects in baseball. The Mets seems to agree on at least some level, as they quickly backed out of trade talks for J.D. Martinez this offseason when Conforto’s name was brought up by the Tigers.

Looking past his strong but largely meaningless spring statistics, Conforto’s wrists have looked quick and he’s regained his patience and confidence at the plate. Unfortunately, Jay Bruce is still around and is a near lock to enter the season as the Opening Day right fielder, meaning Conforto will probably start the season on the bench or in Triple-A. Both options are a waste of a talented player, as Conforto has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues and has demonstrated the ability to be a well-above-average major league bat when healthy.

However, the Mets’ outfield options carry considerable risk. Curtis Granderson is 35 and probably shouldn’t be playing center field; Jay Bruce was a disaster for the Mets in 2016; and even Yoenis Cespedes missed significant time last season. Pair this reality with Conforto’s raw talent and it seems like only a matter of time before his sweet lefty swing is back in the starting lineup doing things like this: