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Michael Conforto, other youngsters impress in split-squad games

Cyclones DH/OF Michael Conforto signs autographs before his

Cyclones DH/OF Michael Conforto signs autographs before his professional baseball debut on Saturday, July 19, 2014 at MCU Park in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Mets prospect Michael Conforto didn't believe the news at first. But soon he convinced himself to "embrace the moment."

He was quickly rewarded in the Mets' 3-1 split-squad victory over the Braves Saturday. Plucked out of minor-league camp to play in a big-league game, Conforto was 3-for-4 with three RBIs while finding himself in the same starting lineup as mainstays such as David Wright.

"I kind of surprised myself," said Conforto, a 22-year-old outfielder the Mets drafted 10th overall last season out of Oregon State. "I felt very comfortable."

For years, the Mets have channeled their energy toward building up their farm system. And Saturday offered plenty of evidence about the strides they have made, leaving manager Terry Collins in the enviable position of finding enough playing time for all the young talent at his disposal.

"It's a ball," Collins said. "It's a stinkin' blast."

Down Interstate 95 in Jupiter, Long Island native and promising pitching prospect Steven Matz tossed a pair of scoreless innings in an 8-7 split-squad loss to Miami. Rafael Montero, another highly touted arm, allowed two runs in 11/3 innings.

In Port St. Lucie, reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom needed less time to pitch his first two innings than he would to condition his trademark flowing hair. Because his pitch count was so low, deGrom continued, and in the next inning, Eury Perez got a hit off him, a single on a poorly thrown slider. He later scored the only run deGrom allowed in his three innings. He needed only 27 pitches.

"Otherwise, I'm really pleased with how it went," deGrom said of his Grapefruit League debut.

The day belonged to Conforto, though, who only the night before was told he would be invited to big-league camp. What he didn't know until later was that he would start in leftfield.

Whatever nerves the lefthanded hitter might have been feeling were concealed by the impression he left with what Collins called a short, quick swing.

Conforto had an RBI single to center in the second. He lined a two-run double to left-center in the third. In the fifth, he put together another strong at-bat that ended with a single through the hole into rightfield.

One rival talent evaluator said he was "very impressed" with Conforto's at-bats because he "had a plan, stayed within the zone [and] used the field with impact."

"I had a lot of fun today," said Conforto, who hit .331/.403/.448 with three homers in 42 games for Class A Brooklyn last season, his first year of professional ball. "It was a great experience."

Collins even left open the possibility of inviting Conforto back for another look in big-league camp, perhaps even sending him on a road trip to get more game action.

"For me, he's got one of those really, really nice swings," Collins said.

Vice president of player development and scouting Paul DePodesta said the Mets haven't decided where Conforto will begin the season, though one team official joked after his performance that it might be New York.

For now, the decision likely will be between low Class A Savannah and high Class A St. Lucie. However the Mets proceed, Conforto knows he fit as part of a major-league camp, at least for one day.

At the end of it, Collins presented the lineup card to Conforto, who likened the afternoon to a bookmark for his career. It's an experience that he hopes he can continue to draw upon.

Said Conforto: "You can always come back to it."

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