PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Michael Conforto jogged onto the practice field Friday afternoon noticeably slimmer, down five to seven pounds from a season to forget. The Mets outfielder was unflinching in his self-assessment of a year that he called a “wake-up call” and “probably my biggest struggle.”
But the former first-round pick spent the offseason looking to learn from his meteoric rise and subsequent fall, one that has left him without a clear spot in a crowded outfield and could have him starting the year in the minors.
“I’ve been through a lot,” Conforto said. “Last year was a huge growing experience for me. It definitely helped me grow up and mature a little bit. Having the offseason to reflect on everything and let the mind settle a little bit, I feel fresh and ready to go, ready to get after it.”
Conforto, 23, began last season in the Opening Day lineup. He ended it on the bench.
In April, he justified all the hype that has followed him since the Mets drafted him 10th overall in 2014, ending the opening month hitting .365. Then his free fall began.
Twice, he wound up with Triple-A Las Vegas, a level he skipped before his major-league debut in 2015. Conforto hit .220 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs for the Mets, nowhere close to the expectations he generated with his blazing start.
“I definitely took a step back and re-evaluated a little bit,” he said. “It was a combination of things. There was a little of some expectations, trying to do too much up there. I think I had a great start to the season and I wanted to keep that pace the entire season.”
Conforto spent his offseason training near his home in Seattle. He began taking swings earlier than he did the year before. Occasionally, he sent videos of those sessions to hitting coach Kevin Long. He sought out assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler, who provided exit-velocity numbers that Conforto used to refine his approach.
The most obvious change thus far has been in Conforto’s physique.
“I think I was a little soft toward the end of the year last year,” he said. “So I feel like I’m in much better shape now.”
Conforto worked to reduce his body fat and add muscle. He focused on drills to increase speed and agility, motivated by his desire to remain on the big-league team.
His best chance to do thatmight come through versatility. Though most of his experience has been in leftfield, the Mets tried him in centerfield last season. He wanted to be prepared if he is given that chance again.
“I need to be more athletic, so why would I not try to better myself?” said Conforto, who also might see time at first base.
Of course, that defensive versatility will be moot if he doesn’t rebound at the plate. As it stands, his most likely destination on Opening Day is Las Vegas, part of the fallout of the Mets’ inability to trade Jay Bruce during the offseason.
“Obviously, there’s going to be tough decisions,” Conforto said. “Nothing’s handed to you up here in the big leagues, so I’m fully prepared to earn everything that I get.”
Mets trade Ynoa. The Mets dealt right handed pitcher Gabriel Ynoa to the Orioles for cash, the clubs announced Friday. The move opened a 40-man roster spot for reliever Fernando Salas once his new one-year deal with the Mets becomes official.
Ynoa, 23, spent most of last season with Las Vegas. He made 10 appearances in the majors, going 1-0 with a 6.38 ERA.