Mets fans breathed a sigh of relief this morning. Michael Conforto, top prospect outfielder, is coming up to save their season and provide offense to a team that has seemed lifeless throughout this season.
Stop right there.
Conforto is not a superhuman. He's not the best prospect who ever lived. (Or so we think.) Conforto is a good-hitting outfielder with a chance--I repeat, chance--to do good things for a Mets team that could use about anyone who can swing a bat in their lineup.
I don't disagree with the promotion of Conforto. I agree with the Mets' thinking. Something, anything, should be done to try to fix this team. But can Conforto be expected to immediately hit big league pitching and be the middle-of-the-order threat that everyone thinks he will be? Absolutely not.
It is known that big league pitchers are much different than minor league hurlers. They make less mistakes, are far more experienced, and much harder to hit. We're expecting a guy who has less than 200 career plate appearances at the Double-A level to hit some of the big leagues' best.
I'd have rather seen the Mets make a trade for a bat. There's still some speculation that they do. Then, if he isn't doing well, maybe they could send Conforto back to the minor leagues and let him develop there.
But which hitter currently on the market could really make that much of a difference in the middle of the Mets lineup?
Sure, there's Justin Upton. Possibly Josh Reddick. Maybe Yoenis Cespedes. But, at least reportedly, the Mets are not willing to either take on the contract or give up the prospects in order to get those guys, even though they are right in the mix and really could contend for a playoff spot down the road.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote an extremely thought-provoking piece on Conforto's awaited promotion two days ago, noting: How much of a difference could Conforto really make?
It’s worth wondering, then: what could the Mets expect of Conforto?
To be honest, every prospect has to be evaluated individually. Everybody’s different, with different skills and different brains. The Mets know Conforto better than I do. But I can at least generate some numbers. I decided to try something, building fromBaseball America’s track record of top-100 prospects, going back to 1990. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I’ve got.
I started with all those preseason top-100 prospects. (Conforto, before the year, ranked No. 80.) I eliminated all the pitchers, and I also eliminated all the catchers and middle infielders, to get rid of guys who might’ve had a lot of value tied up in their defense. From what was left, I identified the players who, that year, made their big-league debuts, and came to the plate at least 50 times. It gave me a sample of 180 names. These are guys who were selected to play in the majors. It’s true that Conforto’s stock has improved from last winter. He wouldn’t rank close to the No. 80 prospect now. But you have to figure other guys who got to the majors, too, mostly had improving stocks. Someone on the decline is less likely to debut in the bigs. Anyway, you care less about this, and more about the numbers.
As I said, I was looking at 180 debuts. These were made mostly by bat-first prospects. Overall, they averaged an 89 wRC+. Those who batted at least 100 times averaged a 93 wRC+. Of the players, 37% posted a wRC+ of at least 100. Narrowing down further, 20% posted a wRC+ of at least 120. The tendency has been for the players to struggle. This has also been far from a rule. Mike Trout didn’t have a sparkling debut. Neither did Jim Thome. On the other hand, check out Kris Bryant. Recall the original Jeff Francoeur. Immediate success isn’t unheard of."
Is this the type of guy the Mets really want to come in and be the superhero? I think not.
The Mets need to go out and trade for a bat. It's time for their ownership to finally realize that opportunities for the playoffs don't come around too often (the Mets' last was in 2006) and that when a team is teetering on the playoff/not playoff line, they need to do what they can to get them in.
Conforto could be the answer, but don't expect him to be the guy immediately. Success seems like it will come, but soon? Hard to say.