Hard-hit balls are Michael Conforto's legacy, dating back to his days as a Little Leaguer, scholastic star and college All-American at Oregon State, so it’s not really that surprising that he’s atop the leaderboard for hard-hit rate near the end of the first month of the season.
Conforto has been credited with a 30.6 percent hard-hit rate to this point in the season. Bryce Harper ranks second with a 28.8 percent rate.
The Conforto swing is the best-looking one on the New York Mets and perhaps in time will be known as one of the best in the majors. Conforto has thrived since being moved to the No. 3 spot and may be the sweetest swinging No. 3 hitter for the Mets since fellow native Washingtonian John Olerud, or going back a little further, Keith Hernandez.
“Michael Conforto has a quick, short swing that stays in the zone a long time,” said Baseball Tonight analyst Doug Glanville. “He has a mature sense of what he is trying to do with each at-bat. He has ‘batting title’ tools with an approach to match.”
It’s a swing that allows him to overpower the ball at the bottom of the strike zone, which many lefties do, but not many with the dominance of Conforto. He hits the ball hard on the ground, on a line or in the air. He's also hitting it wherever it's pitched -- he's hitting .310 or better in all four quadrants of the strike zone (upper half, lower half, inner half and outer half). Almost all of this has come against right-handed pitching, but Conforto did have multiple good swings (and a hard-hit ball) against Reds lefty Brandon Finnegan on Tuesday.
Conforto was not expected to hit for a lot of power, but he does hit a lot of doubles. He has more doubles through his first 74 career games (22) than any other player in Mets history. It’s realistic to think he could take aim at the single-season club record for doubles (45), set by Bernard Gilkey in 1996, and challenged four times by David Wright, who has three seasons of 42 and one of 41.
What’s his ceiling?
We asked the question of what’s Conforto’s 2016 ceiling both to the public (via Twitter) and to those who analyze baseball for a living. Comparisons included Matt Holliday, Kyle Seager and former Pirates outfielder Brian Giles, though some expectations are higher than others, like for the person who compared him to Joey Votto. That one feels like a little much considering Conforto has barely faced any left-handed pitching in his career yet.
This was our favorite response.
🏀 Visions of the Clouds pic.twitter.com/28d8U8MRjB— Myles Helfand (@myhelfy) April 12, 2016
“His ceiling could be that of a convertible [meaning the sky’s the limit],” said SNY pregame show analyst Nelson Figueroa. “He’s an older guy who gets it. He knows his place. He looks for guidance from [Curtis] Granderson, David Wright and especially Michael Cuddyer last year. He’s not just happy to be here. He wants to produce at a high level and he will. Quiet confidence -- speak softly and carry a big stick! A .275 batting average with 20 homers and 80 RBIs are attainable before you pop the top off.”
Before Conforto got his second career start in the cleanup spot (against a left-handed pitcher, no less) on Tuesday night, we had Danny Knobler ask him for the story of his swing. Good habits come at an early age.
“When I was really young, a few coaches in Little League told me, ‘You have a special swing," Conforto said. "I guess I kind of stood out. But when I got older, I was big into football and I only played baseball in the summer. In high school, I’d just swing really hard.
“In college, my swing became more consistent. In college, I took a lot of swings. My head coach, Pat Casey, was more my motivational guy, working on the mental side. Pat Bailey was more my swing guy. There was definitely a learning curve. In fall ball my freshman year, I was awful. I came in and I was supposed to start, but I lost the job. I didn’t start the first three or four games.
“People say you can work on mechanics and things, but the framework and basis of your swing is going to be the same. I kind of believe that, because I’ve seen some video of myself in the Little League World Series and it really does look similar.”