PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Heading into 2019, the Mets have added Robinson Cano and Jed Lowrie and are excited about the major-league debut of Pete Alonso.
But the most important hitter in manager Mickey Callaway’s lineup might be a holdover with the best chance of making the All-Star team or even becoming an MVP candidate.
Michael Conforto turned 26 on March 1. As he put it in spring training, “History shows that 26, 27 is when guys really start to have a lot of success.”
Conforto has been through a lot in his career since he helped the Mets get to the World Series as a rookie in 2015.
He slumped so badly the next season that he ended up in the minors. He rebounded to make the National League All-Star team in 2017 before a freakish shoulder injury on a swing ended his season. He rushed to get back in 2018 and struggled through the first half before getting healthy and getting that sweet lefthanded swing back.
Conforto has hit all over the Mets’ lineup and played all three outfield spots, but Callaway seems set with him as his rightfielder and cleanup hitter.
“Our lineup is going to be much longer than it has been in the past,” Conforto said. “I don’t know where I’m going to end up during the season. I think spring training will help Mickey figure some of that stuff out. I think I’m going to be protected wherever I am in the lineup. There’s a lot of good hitters in the lineup, so I wouldn’t put too much into where I’m hitting, but I do feel like I’m going to be a producer of runs this year and I’m going to be a guy who drives people in.”
It was suggested to Conforto that this year could be a case of “as he goes, the Mets’ offense will go.” It was a suggestion he did not back away from. In fact, he embraced it.
“I think there’s something to that,” Conforto said. “Each season I’ve come in and I’ve been looking to build on what I did the year before. That may have worked against me a little bit in 2018, just being a little overanxious to get back in there and build off that All-Star season. But at the same time, I think that taught me a lot of lessons. I certainly feel like I can build off of last year. Being healthy, doing the things that I know give me success.”
In 2017, Conforto hit .279 with 27 homers, 68 RBIs and a .939 OPS before his season ended on Aug. 24.
In 2018, he had an overall OPS of .797, but it was .710 in the first half and .895 in the second. And with the Mets being loaded with lefthanded hitters, it’s important that Conforto can stand in against lefties: his OPS last season actually was higher against lefties (.808) than righties (.792).
In the clubhouse, Conforto is a young veteran, a leading candidate to replace David Wright as a mentor to younger hitters and perhaps the Mets’ captain someday.
“I think I’m kind of coming into that veteran group,” he said. “I guess at this point I’m one of the longest-tenured Mets guys, which is crazy after being part of that 2015 team and having David around. I see myself as a long-term fixture in this program.”
Michael Conforto had personal bests in several offensive categories last season: