Some Possible Futures for Michael Conforto

After weeks of speculation, the New York Mets finally pulled the trigger Friday and summoned top prospect Michael Conforto from Double-A. With an injured and struggling Michael Cuddyer in left field, and few alternatives on their roster, the Mets needed some help. So although Conforto has just 197 plate appearances above A-Ball, the Mets are throwing him into the fire. Conforto hit .297/.372/.482 in just over 400 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A this year. Things have gone extremely well so far, as Conforto’s posted a 253 (!) wRC+ in his first three games.

Last week, shortly before Conforto’s call-up, Jeff Sullivan looked into just how much the outfielder might be able to help the 2015 Mets. Looking at the performances of similarly ranked prospects in their rookie seasons, he concluded Conforto might be a slightly below-average hitter right now. For a corner outfielder that’s not great. Better than an ailing Michael Cuddyer? Probably, but not by much.

The projections agree. Steamer calls for an 91 wRC+ from here on out. Conforto could easily surpass this forecast, but a 91 wRC+ feels like a reasonable expectation for the 22-year-old. Hitting major-league pitching is hard, and domination in High-A and Double-A isn’t a sufficient condition for success at the highest level.

So that’s the skinny on Conforto for the next three months. But what about after that? In theory, at least, Conforto’s best years are ahead of him. Let’s see what the data say.

Frankly, it’s hard to look at Conforto’s statistical track record and not envision a bright future. He’s been putting up crooked numbers since his college days. As a junior at Oregon State, he hit an obscene .345/.504/.547, and lead the Pac-12 conference in OPS by .065 points. Shortly thereafter, the Mets took him 10th overall in the amateur draft.

Conforto closed out his draft year by hitting .331/.403/.448 in the New York-Penn League. That’s a solid batting line, but it wasn’t enough to get KATOH onboard — my system forecasted him for just 1 WAR through his age-28 season. It takes a lot to impress KATOH as 21-year-old in short-season ball. And aside from his .383 BABIP, Conforto’s stat line was more good than great.

This year, however, Conforto’s done more of the same in High-A and Double-A. KATOH’s starting to believe. Based on a weighted average of his numbers between the two levels, KATOH projects Conforto for 3.7 WAR through his age-28 season. That would have made him the 119th-ranked prospect in the pre-season.

Let’s get some comps in here. Using league-adjusted, regressed stats — along with age —I calculated the Mahalanobis Distance between Conforto’s performance and every season at High-A or Double-A since 1990 in which a batter recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Below, you’ll find a list of historical players whose performances were nearest to Conforto’s, ranked from the most to the least similar.

Rank Mah Dist Name PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
1 0.32 Ivan Cruz 0 0.0
2 0.37 Tommy Peterman 0 0.0
3 0.43 Aubrey Huff 3,066 8.8
4 0.53 Brendan Harris 1,639 2.4
5 0.54 Danny Lewis 0 0.0
6 0.55 Adam Lind 2,887 3.4
7 0.58 Scott Hodges 0 0.0
8 0.61 Jim Tatum 161 0.0
9 0.63 Mike Stefanski 0 0.0
10 0.64 Corey Slavik 0 0.0
11 0.64 Nick Markakis 4,556 19.5
12 0.66 Keith Williams 20 0.0
13 0.75 John Roskos 53 0.0
14 0.76 Evan Longoria 4,119 38.8
15 0.76 Matt Murton 1,058 5.1
16 0.78 Xavier Nady 1,827 2.9
17 0.78 Brooks Conrad 19 0.0
18 0.78 Brent Gates 2,279 2.6
19 0.82 Daryle Ward 1,286 0.0
20 0.82 Juan Tejeda 0 0.0

*Batters who have yet to play their age-28 season.

And here’s a list containing only players who were primarily outfielders, like Conforto.

Rank Mah Dist Name PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
5 0.54 Danny Lewis 0 0.0
6 0.55 Adam Lind 2,887 3.4
11 0.64 Nick Markakis 4,556 19.5
12 0.66 Keith Williams 20 0.0
15 0.76 Matt Murton 1,058 5.1
16 0.78 Xavier Nady 1,827 2.9
25 0.92 Jordan Brown 92 0.0
28 0.98 Curtis Granderson 2,896 20.1
30 0.99 Kevin Burford 0 0.0
34 1.07 Mike Rennhack 0 0.0

*Batters who have yet to play their age-28 season.

As usual, there are plenty of flops in the bunch. Yet it’s the successes that give us a sense of Conforto’s upside. Guys like Aubrey Huff, Adam Lind, Nick Markakis, Matt Murton and Xavier Nady all have career trajectories that seem possible for this 22-year-old. Like Conforto, each of these guys was an all-bat-first player with limited defensive value.

We can probably go ahead and cross Evan Longoria and Curtis Granderson off the list — or at least recognize they’re much different players than someone like Conforto. Although Conforto’s offensive stats look a lot like theirs, he doesn’t have the same kind of athleticism the other two had in their prospect days. A good portion of Longoria’s and Granderson’s value came from their defense, and neither speed nor defense are in Conforto’s toolbox.

Let’s look a little more closely at that defense: In Conforto’s 127 minor-league games across three levels, Baseball Prospectus’ minor league FRAA has him at three runs better than average in left field — which is pretty low on the defensive spectrum. The sample here is small, so don’t take that number as gospel. But it jibes with the scouting reports on Conforto’s defense.

Still, Conforto’s offensive talent makes him one of the more promising prospects in baseball. Going by the data, he could easily be the next Aubrey Huff or Adam Lind — or even Nick Markakis if everything works out. Whether he’s capable of approximating that level of production right now is up for debate. But there’s only one way to find out, and the Mets are giving him an opportunity.

We hoped you liked reading Some Possible Futures for Michael Conforto by Chris Mitchell!

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Larry
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Larry

I see him squaring up enough balls and getting on base enough to move up to the 2 hole in that lineup this year. Is that a reasonable expectation?