Michael Conforto Has No Future at First Base
With the news that Jay Bruce is likely going to be the Mets Opening Day right fielder, many are pushing the idea that Michael Conforto should start to learn first base in order to make room for himself on the major league roster. Sorry, but that is a poor decision.
Now, there is nothing wrong with Conforto learning another position to increase his utility to the Mets. In fact, if Lucas Duda were to go down to injury, or if he is going to struggle due to any lingering effects from him having gone on the disabled list in consecutive seasons with back injuries, Conforto would be the first person you would want to replace him in the lineup.
With that said, the Mets need to figure out what they want Conforto to be. Do they want him to be the best outfielder this organization has developed since Darryl Strawberry? Or do they want him to become the next Eric Valent?
Simply put, at his age and with this talent, Conforto needs to be playing everyday somewhere. Ideally, that should be at the major league level as we have seen Conforto is ready to play in the majors. During his second stint in AAA, Conforto hit .493/.541/.821 with three homers and 11 RBI in 17 games. Those are video game numbers. A player that can dominate like that at the highest level of the minors does not belong there. He belongs in the majors.
He belongs in the major leagues where he has already shown glimpses of being a very good hitter. As a rookie who never played a game above AA, Conforto hit .270/.335/.506 with nine homers and 26 RBI in 56 games. In April last year, before he injured his wrist, Conforto hit an astounding .365/.442/.676 with four homers and 18 RBI in 21 games. Even with this subsequent struggles with the wrist injury and Terry Collins giving him irregular playing time, Conforto has shown he can hit at the major league level.
Again, the problem is he needs to play everyday. The problem is Bruce stands in his way.
This is the same Bruce who hit .219/.294/.391 in 50 games with the Mets last year. This is the same Bruce who is a career 109 OPS+ and 107 wRC+ career hitter. The same Bruce who has a career .318 OPB and .295 OBP over the past three seasons. This is the same Bruce who is just a few years removed from a season where he had a knee injury and hit .217/.281/.373 with 18 homers in 137 games. This is the same Bruce who is declining defensively posting a -8.9 UZR and -11 DRS last year and has averaged a -6.4 UZR and a -3 DRS over the past three seasons.
Ideally, Bruce is the guy who should be providing power off the bench. He should be learning first base to provide insurance for Duda. He should be the guy to step into the lineup should Conforto struggle or Curtis Granderson shows his age. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. A guy who has 30 homer 100 RBI potential is going to play everyday. A guy who is making $13 million is going to play everyday. A guy the Mets want to showcase so they can trade him is going to play everyday.
That leaves Conforto on the bench if he is in the majors. With Collins in charge, that leaves you to question when exactly Conforto will play. You know he’s not going to play him against left-handed batters, which is a problem because Bruce, Duda, and Granderson are all left-handed batters. Further complicating the matters is Juan Lagares is going to play against left-handed pitchers, and he is going to be a defensive replacement late in games. On top of that, the Mets are looking to see how Jose Reyes can handle the outfield. Long story short, Conforto’s not going to play, so why are you wasting time trying to get him reps at a position he’s never going to play?
Moreover, why are you wasting time getting him reps at a position he has no future? After the 2017 season Bruce, Duda, and Granderson are free agents. Assuming one or two leave in free agency, there is now a spot for Conforto to play everyday in the outfield whether that be in center or right. The first baseman in 2018 is either going to be Dominic Smith, if he makes strides in 2017 like he did in 2016, or a one year stop gap. Keep in mind that if Smith should falter, Peter Alonso, who has shown he has the potential to be a terrific major league hitter, may not be too far behind.
Overall, the Jay Bruce situtation has put Conforto in a terrible position. He’s either going to be a pinch hitter who gets very little playing time or a minor league player. This is the exact type of situation where you can mess up a prospect. The Mets should not compound this by trying to make him a first baseman when Conforto is likely not going to have a chance to play more than 20 games at first base in his entire career.
No, the Mets should instead use the time to focus on getting Conforto to work on the areas of his game that needs improvement. By doing that, you make him a much better player. By stashing him on the bench and trying to make him a 1B/OF, you are only going to accomplish making him the next Eric Valent.
At the end of the day, which is the better course of action?