Back in 2014, when Michael Conforto was playing short-season Class A ball with the Brooklyn Cyclones, his at-bat music was a song titled “Ambition” by the rapper Wale.
“They’re going to love me for my ambition,” goes the hook. “Easy to dream a dream, though it’s harder to live it.”
Sometimes it’s hard to see Conforto this way. He’s a little bit intense but mostly soft-spoken. His physical presence doesn’t tower over you the way that of many athletes does, and even his clothes are understated. Recently, it was a dark cap and jeans, a black backpack with no immediately visible designer labels. You probably could run into him on the subway and not know it.
But that’s not the Conforto who takes the field for the Mets, and that has been abundantly clear during Yoenis Cespedes’ absence with a hamstring injury that, Terry Collins said, he hopes will clear up by the start of the Braves series Tuesday night.
Until then, Conforto has done a very good job of showing every inch of that ambition he had when he broke into professional baseball at 21, a gem of the Mets’ farm system with a very long way to go.
“The first one, got a pitch I was looking for out over the plate,” he said Sunday night after he spent the evening making Max Scherzer look human, even going yard on Scherzer’s second pitch of the game. “I put a swing on it and didn’t miss it . . . I think it’s the approach. I think I’m laying off tough pitches and swinging at pitches that are in my zone and pitches that I hit well. I think that’s the big thing, sticking to my strengths.”
He’s hitting .361 in 16 games, had three hits Sunday, and is hitting .438 in four starts batting leadoff. He has a .526 on-base percentage in that small sample and has scored seven runs.
The result is a bench player who is quickly proving he has the ability to play every day. Granted, things are a bit crowded right now in the outfield. Once Cespedes returns, he’ll be reunited with Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, and then there’s Juan Lagares. But that’s not the only reason the Mets are being cautious with Conforto.
After a strong rookie campaign in which he played to his strengths — his strike-zone recognition was highly touted — he regressed in 2016. He has trouble hitting lefties, and didn’t get a chance to do it this year until he was forced into service against the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez over the weekend. Above all, he is the future. Granderson and Bruce are free agents at the end of this year, meaning, most likely, that Conforto’s ambition may earn him the permanent starting role he desires.
And though Collins previously acknowledged that Conforto isn’t all that thrilled to be a fourth outfielder, the manager did say he’s handling it professionally. When asked about it, Conforto lets his professionalism do the talking.
“There’s really not much difference” in preparation, he said. “I try to keep everything the same as far as what I’m doing before the game. I keep that level of consistency, just so I’m prepared for whatever I’m going to be doing that day.”
Duda on the mend. Lucas Duda (hyperextended elbow) said he feels significantly better and believes he’ll be ready to play once his 10-day disabled list stint expires next week. “Much better,” he said. “I think I’ll be ready . . . It depends on where the team sends me and what they want to do, but I think I should be ready in [the] 10 days.”
Michael Conforto has made the most of his limited opportunities. He leads the Mets in several statistical categories: