PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Michael Conforto is one of the Mets' leaders, a guy that has been around and experienced a lot. In that regard, it's surprising that he turns ... wait for it ... only 27 years old on March 1.
He's a homegrown player who has made a lot of memories with the Mets. He is looking forward to a successful 2020.
The Bergen Record caught up with Conforto on Thursday. His answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Question: What have you learned throughout your time in the big leagues?
Conforto: I’ve just kind of gained perspective in how long a season is, how much can happen over the course of a season, how important it is to take care of yourself and stay on the field. Those are just a few things that you just don’t realize when you’re younger and you’re just playing for each day, playing to try to stay in the big leagues. I think there’s a lot more that goes into being a career major-league player. It’s guys like Pete (Alonso) who catch on really fast and have a lot of success early in their careers. And he’s obviously still learning and growing, but for me, it took a year or two to figure that out.
What things go into being a career major leaguer that you couldn’t have seen coming out of college?
When you first come up, you’re just playing to try to make a good first impression, to try to just survive. Then once you kind of solidify yourself, you can’t lose that (mindset) but you also have to balance it. You have to walk the line of playing with that intensity and also taking care of yourself, being smart. This organization unfortunately has had some tough injuries over the past five years or so. It has affected some seasons, and so a lot of emphasis has been put on staying healthy and making sure guys are staying on the field where they need to be, where they’re helping their team. That’s a huge thing for me.
You just don’t think about that when you’re young. You take it for granted, your health and your ability to bounce back. I still have that, but just being around some older guys and learning some of the stuff from them, one thing they always say is to take care of yourself. The youth doesn’t last and you’ve got to make sure you can be as productive as you can in this game.
Your regular statistics are good, but analytics also shine a positive light on you. Do you pay attention to those because of the analytical shift in the game? Or do you just keep them out of your mind and play?
Well, some of them I don’t understand. I guess I get the gist of it, but I’ve never really focused on that stuff so I figure I don’t need to focus on it if I’m just going out there and playing my game. But it is interesting. They’re continuing to refine those things and make them (able to) tell the full story. You can use a combination of those analytics and get a pretty good picture of what kind of player you have. I think it’s important to not go all in on that stuff and also not ignore. It’s just like anything. You have to have a little bit of both, the eye test and the analytics.
I think they all have a place in this game. Obviously with how big analytics has become in this game, it’s something that’s here to stay. But when I’m on the field, I’m not thinking about that stuff. I’m trying to compete.
What have you applied that some of the organization’s analytics minds have told you about that’s been useful and easy to understand?
The first thing that pops into my head is on the defensive side. It’s more of a positioning thing from (manager) Luis Rojas when he was our (quality control coach and) outfield coach last year. He was able to communicate to me that he wanted me to come play a little bit more shallow, and I’ve always been a little bit more comfortable playing deep. But he was able to communicate that, "This is actually going to make you more comfortable. You’re going to be able to make more plays coming in on the ball."
On the hitting side, I guess just building a gameplan. More so than looking at my numbers, building a gameplan against a pitcher, understanding the scouting report against me, what pitchers are trying to do to me. I think that’s very useful to us.
How did people pitch to you last year? What did you notice that stuck out to you?
Early, they came hard in — that’s always been the book on me. Hard in, then try to get me to chase away. Get ahead early and get me to chase away. I started to have a little success getting to that fastball in and I was able to lay off the ones that were off the plate. Started the year well and then I think I started getting a little too quick, started to chase the soft stuff. I made an adjustment there, then they started going fastballs away, fastballs up in the zone and away and backfoot sliders. You just play that cat-and-mouse game where you start to cover what they’re trying to do against you, then they switch up the gameplan. Some teams are ahead of the game, some teams are behind. There’s no telling.
It seems like most analytics staffs have the same plan, but some view the data differently, so there’s always small differences in what teams do. But by the end, most of the stuff was away. They wanted to stay away from me. We’ll see throughout spring, as we get closer, if they show their hand a little bit. But at the end of the day, you just have to be ready to get your pitch. You’ve got to be focused on what you want to hit and with two strikes, you just battle. But up until then, you just battle. Up until then, you look for your pitch.
How do you reach the next tier this year?
Just continue to work hard and just do what I’m capable of. I’ve been in that tier before. I believe I’m in that tier. I think that’s most of the battle there is just having the confidence to go out there and feel like you’re a great player. But also, I’m just more focused on trying to win games. Any time I can think of that I’ve played really well, everything hasn’t been focused on what I’m doing, it’s more enjoying the game, enjoying my time with my teammates and having fun out there. Trying to win games. I’ll do my best to just enjoy myself. We’ve got a great team so I think it’s going to be easy to have a lot of fun with this group of guys.