ATLANTA — Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson watched hundreds of miles apart. But after Friday’s game against the Braves, the Mets’ manager and general manager independently reached the same conclusion. Michael Conforto was overwhelmed, overmatched and in need of a chance to rest, and the time had come to demote him.
With that, the Mets set in motion the latest move in what has been an ongoing roster shake-up, sending Conforto to Triple-A Las Vegas in favor of another former first-rounder and highly regarded young outfielder, Brandon Nimmo.
“That’s the one thing I do know,” said Conforto, who insisted upon addressing reporters before leaving Turner Field, an unusual move for demoted players. “I’ll be back. And I’ll be doing what I did in April, what I did last year. I’m very confident in that.”
For Conforto, 23, it was the culmination of the worst stretch in his promising major-league career. Drafted 10th overall in 2014, Conforto rocketed to the big leagues last July. He had vaulted to the majors without stopping in Triple-A and quickly established himself as one of the game’s most promising hitters.
But after a torrid April in which he hit .365, he hit .169 in May and .119 in June. His slump dropped his average to .222, finally prompting action.
“Frankly, we felt we put it off probably a little too long, and maybe even to Michael’s detriment,” Alderson said.
Nimmo, by contrast, took a slower route to the big leagues. It had been expected. He was drafted in 2011, the first selection of Alderson’s tenure. The Mets took him although he grew up in Wyoming, not exactly a baseball hotbed. His pre-draft experience came in American Legion baseball.
The pick has remained polarizing, with scouts fixating on his rawness. Despite questions about his ability to overcome the experience gap, Nimmo, 23, put himself in line for a promotion. He was hitting .328 with five homers for Triple-A Las Vegas after a slow start.
Said Nimmo: “Just pure joy and thankfulness filled my heart last night.”
Triple-A manager Wally Backman broke the news to Nimmo with a bit of ribbing, calling the prospect into his office to compliment an approach that would serve him well in the big leagues once promoted. Then Backman said the team’s charter to Salt Lake City was full, meaning Nimmo would have to take another flight.
“That’s fine. That’s happened before. I’m low man on the totem pole,” said Nimmo, about to walk out of the office.
But Backman stopped him. “By the way,” he said, “that flight goes to Atlanta.”
Collins praised Nimmo for being more aggressive earlier in counts. And though he didn’t commit to Nimmo playing leftfield every day, the manager said he will see significant time, even during pressure-packed series such as the one the Mets will be in starting at Washington tomorrow.
Still, some scouts harbor doubts about Nimmo.
“Not an impact player,” said one evaluator. Another acknowledged Nimmo’s physical skills but wondered how he will react to the pressure.
“It took a long time for it to set in,” Nimmo said. “I just felt like I was in shock. I just didn’t really know exactly how to feel because it was something that I’ve been working toward for a long time.”
Conforto acknowledged his disappointment and downplayed the impact of a sore left wrist.
“It will be good to get away from the craziness going on right now,” he said.
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