PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The same cool confidence that originally helped catapult Michael Conforto to the Mets directly from Double-A Binghamton may be the key reason to believe he’ll get through the shoulder surgery that ended his All-Star season last year.
The physical hurdles are what they are. Returning from a torn posterior capsule, the result of a second left shoulder dislocation, is no picnic. But for a young player, trying to bounce back from such a freakish injury — Conforto hurt himself on a hard swing — plowing past the mental obstacles can be just as difficult.
It doesn’t feel that way with Conforto, however. Back in 2015, when the Mets desperately needed an outfield boost, the quality that got him promoted — in addition to his lethal bat — was his uncommon maturity. Now 24, nothing seems too daunting for Conforto, and when he says his rehab couldn’t be going any better, you give him the benefit of the doubt on the timetable to get back in the Mets’ lineup.
“There’s the May 1 date and that kind of gives me an idea,” Conforto said Tuesday. “As a competitor, it’s tough for me not to look at that date and want to get out there before that. But that’s why we have the great medical staff that we have, and they’re helping me understand I’ve got to be the player that I was and that I know I am going to be again.
“And that comes from doing things the right way, going through the progression. I don’t know for sure if it’s going to be May 1 — could be earlier, could be later. Who knows? That’s the date that Sandy [Alderson] outlined.”
The Mets haven’t been the best at nailing target dates when it comes to injuries, especially in the pitching department. But they’ll be content to take their time with Conforto, who’s shaping up to be the most dangerous pure hitter in their lineup. Of all the bad breaks suffered during last season’s medical misfortunes, having Conforto’s triumphant year end on Aug. 24 — after batting .279 with 27 homers and a .939 OPS through 109 games — was especially deflating.
Not only was his 2017 shattered, but the surgery will delay Conforto in 2018 as well, handicapping the Mets’ hopes for a quick start. Still, Mickey Callaway realizes the importance of patience when handling a player like Conforto, and he’s fine waiting for the All-Star version to heal up entirely.
“I want to make sure when he’s back, he’s back,” Callaway said. “And we don’t push things to where he can play for two weeks and then may have an issue and then he loses two months. We want him to just go through his rehab routine, and make sure we communicate with him along the way how he’s feeling. Players always tell you they feel better than they probably are, so we’re going to be aware of that. We want him back, and when he’s ready, he’s there for the rest of the season.”
Conforto isn’t about to rush, either. The rehab pace may be painstakingly slow — he’s been hitting only off a tee for the past few days — but Conforto is good with making sure everything related to his shoulder is perfect before progressing to the next phase. And he’s been moving forward with no worries about a recurrence, given the feedback Conforto has been getting from the surgeons. Mets orthopedist David Altchek told him the shoulder is “99 percent” solid to stay put. When Conforto picks up a bat now, he doesn’t even consider what happened last August. There’s no reason to.
“In my mind, I don’t think anything changes,” Conforto said. “It’s adversity. It’s something you’ve got to overcome. Another rock in your path and you’ve got to push through it.”
When Conforto does, centerfield is expected to be waiting for him again, with Jay Bruce returning to play right. Born out of necessity, Conforto now sees himself as a centerfielder, and polishing those abilities is something he can do while the offensive side catches up
“It’s a lot of fun out there, I enjoy playing there,” Conforto said. “I feel very comfortable. I understand I’m probably not Billy Hamilton out there. But I think I get good jumps on the ball and I’ve got a quick first step. If I make my reads, and really work on it, like I have been, the more that I’m able to fill that position and play it well.”
Even at this relatively early phase of his Mets career, Conforto remains unflappable, from position switches to shoulder surgery. Some might argue that’s the strongest part of his game, the steely determination to succeed.
“Just got to keep working,” Conforto said. “Baby steps at this point. I couldn’t be more happy to be swinging a bat.”