David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PHILADELPHIA - The crazy thing about Michael Conforto's meteoric rise to the majors, and success during the past month, is not that he was promoted from Double-A Binghamton as a Hail Mary strategy to revive the Mets' moribund offense.
It's the fact that he began this season at Class A St. Lucie.
"You just don't see that type of jump," David Wright said before last night's 9-5 win over the Phillies in 13 innings. "Because you don't see that type of maturity. You can tell he's got that confidence, but he's not cocky. And he's going to get better and better. He's the real deal."
Wright, 32, could have been talking about himself from a decade ago, as Conforto might be the Mets' best all-around hitter since the captain arrived in 2004. The difference? While it took Wright two years to make his first playoff appearance, Conforto, 22, is practically assured of making this postseason roster only months after his call-up.
Conforto, who went 2-for-7 with a double, had an RBI single during the Mets' four-run rally in the 13th. That raised his batting average to .273. He has an .854 OPS, and in the last 11 games, he's hitting .351 (13-for-37) with five doubles and two homers. He also reached into the stands to grab Freddy Galvis' foul pop for the first out of the 12th inning.
It wasn't all that long ago that we were debating the merits of having Conforto hop over Triple-A en route to Flushing. In hindsight, that argument looks ridiculous.
The Mets knew Conforto was a hitting prodigy. But as Wright touched on, the most impressive aspect of Conforto's development is how he has handled himself. Despite the pressure that comes with being the Next Big Thing in New York, he hasn't flinched.
"I wouldn't say I was uncomfortable the first few games," Conforto said. "But there was definitely a period of adjustment that needed to be made."
In the past few weeks, Conforto has been bombarded by more data than he'd ever laid eyes on before -- endless video, heat maps, percentages and tendencies for every upcoming pitcher. He said he likes to study video to familiarize himself with a pitcher's release point and maybe check out the heat maps to isolate what he might get in certain counts. Beyond that, he doesn't want too much data clogging his brain while in the batter's box.
"I had advice from people not to overwhelm yourself with that stuff," Conforto said. "Try to keep it the same as you were doing in the minor leagues. Same sport. There's just a little bit more information available here."
Knowing that, hitting coach Kevin Long and assistant Pat Roessler provide whatever stats they have, answer any questions about how a pitcher might attack him and tell Conforto to trust his ability. That basic formula has worked pretty well, mainly because he already possesses the most critical tool for an elite hitter.
"His No. 1 asset is his strike-zone discipline," Long said. "He's really good at controlling the strike zone. There's a lot of talent in there. And there's a lot of talent that's still going to come out."
In the meantime, Conforto has played in 25 of the 30 games since he was promoted July 24, and the Mets are 22-8 during that stretch. But Conforto was never supposed to be an extended fix. At best, Sandy Alderson figured he might inject some youthful energy in place of the injured Michael Cuddyer. Get a taste of the major-league experience, maybe spend some time with the Mets before a deadline trade and return to the majors in September.
Instead, the Mets have deployed Conforto on a regular basis as a dangerous No. 7 hitter. And there's a good chance -- if the Mets stay on this playoff track -- that Conforto will be the starting leftfielder against Zack Greinke in Game 1 of the Division Series.
"He's performed well on the field, he's fit in the clubhouse, he's handled the media and public scrutiny," Alderson said. "One of the things we said at the outset was that we were confident in his approach to hitting. And he stuck with that approach."
As calculated risks go, Conforto turned out to be not much of one at all.