Many players in Major League Baseball fly under the radar but are crucial to their team’s success both on and off the field. These kinds of players are hard to dislike but are also hard to pinpoint and locate. Most teams have one or more of these players. These kinds of players can go underappreciated for years on end.
One of these special hidden gems plays for the Mets. It’s Michael Conforto.
Drafted in the first round at No. 8 overall in 2014, Conforto was one of the best college bats in the entire 2014 draft. Conforto quickly jumped onto the prospect scene for the Brooklyn Cyclones, hitting .331/403/.448 with a trio home runs and 19 RBI in 42 games for them that season. By the time the 2014 season came to a close, Michael had cemented himself on major prospect lists and was the fourth overall prospect in a loaded farm system that included Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Brandon Nimmo, and Dominic Smith.
The 2015 season for Conforto was an impressive one from start to finish. He started in High-A St. Lucie and also played for Double-A Binghamton for a good chunk of the season. Between those two levels, Conforto hit .297/.372/.482 with 12 home runs and 54 RBI through 91 games. On July 4, Michael Conforto became the 18,565th player to play in Major League Baseball as he went 0-for-3 with an RBI against the Dodgers while starting in right field. He came up the ranks with questions on his defense and proved those doubters wrong by showing off his above-average defense upon arrival. Down the stretch towards an eventual National League title, Conforto hit .270/.335/.506 with nine home runs, 26 RBI, and 14 doubles while cementing himself as a middle-of-the-order bat for then-manager Terry Collins.
When the stakes got high and the postseason hit, Conforto stepped up to the challenge as a young 22-year-old rookie who had just debuted and played in the College World Series a short year before. He struggled slightly in the NLDS and NLCS, but when the World Series came around, he knew what was up. He had a huge series. hitting .333 with two home runs and 4 RBI, even though the Mets eventually fell to the Royals in Game 5.
When the calendar turned to 2016, so did Conforto’s play. He didn’t enjoy the success that he had had the previous season. Conforto only hit .220/.310/.414 with 12 home runs and 42 RBI through 109 games. Over the course of that season, Conforto was demoted twice and promoted again after dominating in the minors. Still, 2016 was a season to forget for Michael.
However, 2017 was a season to remember for Conforto, as he was an All-Star for the first time in his career. Although he did have his season cut short by a torn-up shoulder on a swing in late August, Conforto hit .279/.384/.555 with 27 home runs and 68 RBI through 109 games. He played plenty of great defense across the outfield while making Gold Glove-caliber plays in centerfield.
2018 was also a solid season for Conforto, as he again played across all three outfield positions and appeared in a career-high 153 games. He compiled a solid .243/.350/.448 batting line along with a then career-high 28 home runs and 82 RBI. Conforto had finally established himself as a mainstay in the lineup and a solid defender in the outfield. This is where he turned himself from a questionable player to an established big-leaguer. Conforto not only played great but was also a great leader, always offering encouragement and optimism during rough times. That was only a glimpse of what a special player he would prove to be the in 2019.
Before we talk statistics for Conforto in 2019, let’s talk about his leadership. The Mets started the season off well, and Conforto said the Mets couldn’t settle as they have to continue playing great all season long. When they did slump in the middle, Conforto motivated the team and said that the team would still have to fight and that the best baseball had yet to be played. That proved to be correct when they made a comeback from 15 games below .500 all the way into a Wild card spot. They fought until the second to last game, in which they were eliminated. Conforto showed fight and resilience all year long. It’s not often that you get a leader, a competitor, and a respected player like Conforto who also brings great play in the field.
Statistically, Conforto had his best season in 2019. Through 151 games, he slashed .257/.363/.494 with a career-high 33 home runs and 92 RBI. Conforto also smacked 29 doubles and came up clutch on numerous occasions. He played great defense in right field and played with a lot of heart, finishing the year with 3.7 fWAR.
This shows how much of a gem Michael Conforto was. Here, in comparison, are Bryce Harper’s stats from 2019, just one year into his 13-year, $330 million deal:
.260/.372/.510, 35 HR, 114 RBI, 99 BB, 178 SO, .882 OPS, 4.6 WAR
Now, here are the 2019 stats for the 26-year-old Conforto, who earned just above $4 million in 2019 and won’t be a free agent until 2022:
.257/.363/.494, 33 HR, 92 RBI, 84 BB, 149 SO, .856 OPS, 3.7 WAR
Is the crazy contract really worth slightly better stats? I would argue that on Conforto’s current contract and with his proven leadership and consistent game-play, teams would rather have Conforto with slightly worse production over Harper and the baggage that comes with him. By no means should we undermine what Bryce Harper has done, but it’s undeniable that Conforto is almost as good as the newly-paid Phillies star if you look at the full picture.
The fact that I have shown that Bryce Harper and Michael Conforto are in the same ballpark is a bit mind-boggling to me considering the amount of publicity Harper gets versus the little to none that Conforto gets, and that is with Conforto being in New York.
It’s time for baseball fans to look at and realize there are many hidden gems just like Conforto around the league. Salary and media coverage never tells the full story.