Let Michael Conforto Play by Travis Sawchik April 13, 2017 Mets fans know the dilemma well. Despite already possessing probably the club’s second-best bat after Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto might have a tenuous grasp on a roster spot. Conforto isn’t a natural center fielder. Juan Lagares is a natural center fielder and is also nearing a return from a rehab stint to serve as the club’s fourth outfielder, a role which Conforto is currently filling. Conforto is a more natural fit at a corner-outfield spot, but Cespedes has a solid grasp of left field and the Mets owe Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce $15 million and $13 million, respectively, this year. Granderson and Bruce are atop the depth chart at center and right field. Conforto is well aware of his situation. He’s well aware he has minor-league options remaining and a relatively paltry salary. Said the 24-year-old to Newsday earlier this week: “My situation is a day-to-day thing.” Despite doing this on Wednesday night… Michael Conforto got some extension on that home run. He crushed it a projected 422 feet, off the bat at 108.1 mph. #Mets pic.twitter.com/ElRj8AlVUX — Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) April 13, 2017 Despite demonstrating a compact, powerful swing that produced results on Sunday… Regardless of the quality of contact he’s produced, his pedigree as a first-round pick, and the intriguing track record, Conforto isn’t a lock to stick in the lineup regularly or on the 25-man roster at all. There’s the old adage that if you can hit they will find a place for you in the field. Will the Mets? This is a player who posted a 133 wRC+ of as a rookie in 2015 over 194 plate appearances, when Conforto’s average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives was 96.1 mph, ranking him 22nd among hitters with at least 100 batted-ball events (just behind Cespedes). After an excellent start to 2016, a wrist issue and inconsistent playing time contributed to a lackluster sophomore campaign. Still, despite 2016, Conforto was projected by ZiPS to be the Mets’ second-best position player in 2017. From our ZiPS post back in February: Only four Mets field players recorded a WAR figure of 2.0 or greater in 2016. According to Dan Szymborski’s computer, six different Mets might be expected to reach that mark in 2017. Yoenis Cespedes (596 PA, 4.1 zWAR) receives the club’s top projection by a full win — and three of the club’s top-four forecasts overall belong to outfielders. One of those additional outfielders is Curtis Granderson (538, 2.3). The other isn’t presumptive right-field starter Jay Bruce (583, 1.2) but rather Michael Conforto (558, 3.0). Conforto, in other words, appears to be a markedly superior option. And all Conforto has done this spring is hit like Kyle Schwarber Lite. He’s making life difficult on Mets officials tasked with setting the roster and lineup card. Last year, Eno Sarris wrote about the development of power and how Conforto’s best contact hadn’t been ideal. Well, Conforto is making strides there early this spring. His home run on Sunday left his bat at 108 mph and landed 430 feet away in right-center field. Conforto can hit. He might be the Mets’ second-best hitter and yet the Mets continue to struggle to find a place for his bat, giving him only two starts so far this season. The Mets might have initially regretted picking up Bruce’s option, insurance in case Cespedes signed elsewhere this offseason. But Bruce has been productive to date this year, and might be benefiting from an attempt to launch more balls in the air. Bruce has hit four home runs in the season’s first week and is slashing .273/.385/.667 — in part, fueled by a 0.40 GB/FB ratio. So what to do with Conforto? A modest proposal: platoon Conforto with Lagares in center (which is how the Mets began last season), hope for the best defensively, and let him hit. For starters, outfield defense is a bit less important behind the Mets, whose pitching staff finished ninth in strikeouts in baseball a season ago and ninth in ground-ball rate (46.5%). The Mets’ power rotation is again expected to miss many a bat and produce a better-than-average ground-ball rate. But Conforto might actually be a superior defensive option to Granderson in center right now. In limited defensive work in center field, covering 48 innings, Conforto has been worth 1 defensive run save (DRS). In 952 innings in left, he’s been posted 9 DRS, exceeding expectations of his defense. Granderson, meanwhile, has declined as a defender and is already rated as being worth -2 DRS this season in center. In his last full season in center, in New York in 2012, Granderson was worth -7 DRS. Conforto is the better offensive option going forward. As for Lagares, he’s an excellent defensive center fielder, having tallied 62 DRS from 2013 to -16, but he’s posted well below-average offensive seasons in back-to-back years, including a 79 wRC+ mark in 2015 and an 84 wRC+ last season. However, for his career, Lagares has a wRC+ of 105 versus lefties versus a 76 mark against righties. Given what we know about platoon splits, that might actually be a fair representation of his true talent. There’s a place for Lagares’ glove as a defensive replacement, or perhaps with a fly-ball pitcher on the mound. And Lagares’ right-handed bat could serve as a platoon partner for Conforto who has struggled to hit lefties (.129 average in 62 at-bats) early in his big-league career. Every win matters for the Mets in what figures to be a competitive NL East. While their lineup is off to a productive start, it would be more productive, more often, with their second-most-capable hitter in the lineup. We’ve always heard that if you can hit a team will find a place for you. For much of this spring it seemed the Mets were thinking that place was Triple-A for Conforto, but perhaps Conforto’s strong spring and torrid start to open the season in limited chances could force some more creative thinking. The sooner they find a way to make a consistent lineup home for Conforto, the better off they will be.