It’s been four years since the New York Mets demoted Michael Conforto following a prolonged slump in the middle of the 2016 season. During that slump, which began on May 1 when he took an 0-for against Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, Conforto saw his OPS plummet from 1.118 to .727, and while he fared a little better after his call-up three weeks later, he finished an underwhelming sophomore season that started the unfair but perpetually present narrative that Conforto is “inconsistent”.
Fast forward to 2020, and Conforto is a star, although you wouldn’t know it by the lack of hype surrounding him. The 27-year-old doesn’t attract the same level of attention as many other outfielders around the league, which is more a result of right field being stacked with a bevy of household names—Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Bryce Harper, Ronald Acuna Jr.—than anything else. While Conforto‘s production puts him in a tier below that group, his body of work should put him in the discussion of the rising young superstars in the game, and another typical Conforto season should help insert him into that discussion permanently.
Over the past three seasons, the outfielder has been a steady presence in the Mets’ lineup and one of the most reliable hitters on the team. In that span, he’s hit .257/.363/.492. His 11.1 fWAR ranks fifth among all qualified National League outfielders, behind Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Harper, and Charlie Blackmon, while he ranks fifth with a 13.0% BB%, seventh with a 129 wRC+—right behind teammate Brandon Nimmo’s 133 wRC+, for those who stubbornly insist that he’s a “fourth outfielder”—and eighth with an .855 OPS. Conforto received some much deserved recognition over the offseason when was ranked the ninth-best right fielder in baseball on MLB Network’s The Shredder list.
While his 2019 numbers didn’t quite match his 2017 All-Star campaign, Conforto put forth his best full season and established himself as a formidable force in the lineup alongside Pete Alonso, giving the team a fearsome middle of the order. The outfielder set a career high with 33 home runs, 92 runs batted in, and 90 runs scored, and he posted the second-best single-season fWAR (3.7) and OPS (.856) since he debuted in 2015. Conforto also found his way into 150-plus games for the second time is as many years after missing the last six weeks of 2017 with a gruesome dislocated shoulder injury.
In looking ahead to 2020, Conforto will hold down the fort in right field with Nimmo patrolling center and left field being a team effort between J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, and Yoenis Cespedes, depending on health and performance. His defense played a lot better in the corner last year, where he concluded the year with a 1 DRS and a 0.9 UZR/150 in 1012.1 innings, as opposed to a -4 DRS and a -15.2 UZR/150 in 268 innings in center. His numbers in right aren’t quite noteworthy, but he’s put up positive numbers in each of his four seasons playing in right, and he put up more innings in right field last year than he has in any season at any of the three positions. Though defense is hardly his strongest suit, he has the chance to establish himself as a dependable presence there, which is one less thing for the Mets to worry about.
Offensively, the sky’s the limit for Conforto, who is just now reaching his prime at the age of 27. He figures to fit comfortably in the middle of the lineup and will continue to serve as one of the team’s best run producers. Last year, 226 of his 549 at-bats (41%) came in the cleanup spot, which makes sense for him again this season, as he hits behind Nimmo, Alonso, and Jeff McNeil and ahead of Davis/Cespedes and Robinson Cano. In the annul ZiPS projections, Conforto is projected to fall slightly below his 2020 numbers, though still contribute a respectable .256/.363/.494 slash line with 31 home runs, a 125 wRC+, and a 3.4 fWAR.
Conforto has come a long way in a short amount of time since debuting for the club in 2015. He already has a multi-home run game in the World Series under his belt, as well as an All Star nod and three straight seasons with 25-plus homers, a 120-plus wRC+, and a 3.0-plus fWAR. The Mets have him under control for the next two seasons before he comes an unrestricted free agent after 2021, and this would be a perfect opportunity for the club to explore an extension to keep their former first round pick here for the long term.
The Mets have one of the best homegrown offensive cores in the league, and that all began when the club called up Conforto during the 2015 season. Since then, he’s been one of their brightest stars, especially over the last three years. Conforto is adept at getting on base while also providing the team with a steady burst of power, making him a versatile bat, and 2020 should be the year that people finally take notice of the outfielder’s rising star.