Mets fill organizational need with outfielder Conforto
CHICAGO -- Michael Conforto's genetics are telling. His mother, Tracie Ruiz-Conforto, won a pair of gold medals in synchronized swimming at the 1984 Olympics, and a silver four years later. His father, Mike, was an inside linebacker at Penn State in the 1970s.
Following their lead, Conforto is now a few steps from becoming a big league baseball player. The Mets on Thursday selected Conforto 10th overall in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, filling a massive organizational need with his power outfield bat, as well as his potential to rise quickly through the system.
"They were very athletic," Conforto said of his parents. "I take pride in carrying on that tradition of athleticism."
The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
Conforto, 21, has always been something of an athletic outlier, starring in both baseball and football in high school. Offers poured in from Division I colleges around the country -- some inviting him to play both sports, others asking him to play football alone. Oregon State suggested baseball.
Again, his family had an influence.
"I could see the way that football affected my dad later on in life," Conforto said. "He's going to need double knee surgery, and he's having trouble walking around. I loved football, I really did, but baseball was always another big passion for me. So I made that transition over to just baseball, and my baseball career really took off."
Over the ensuing three years, Conforto transformed from an undrafted high school baseball player to a first-round talent. In three collegiate seasons, he batted .340 with a .560 slugging percentage, striking out 119 times against 120 walks in 668 at-bats.
This season he hit .345 with 16 doubles and seven home runs in 59 games, also walking an Oregon State-record 55 times. He led his conference in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs scored.
A native of Woodinville, Wash., Conforto is a two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year and a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball's top collegiate honor. He also played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team in each of the past two summers, demonstrating the types of skills the Mets value throughout their organization.
"It's a real fit for what we like as a hitter -- the patience, the discipline," Tommy Tanous, director of amateur scouting, said. "This is a hitter with very few weaknesses right now."
Like any young position player, Tanous said, Conforto will need experience against same-handed pitchers and to become deadly versus breaking balls. At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Conforto admittedly was weak defensively, but he has worked hard to improve throughout his collegiate career.
That, along with his advanced age, gives him a chance to move rapidly through the Mets' farm system. As the organization's first collegiate first-rounder since Matt Harvey in 2010, Conforto is already older than the team's three most recent top picks -- outfielder Brandon Nimmo in 2011, shortstop Gavin Cecchini in 2012 and first baseman Dominic Smith last June. He also steps into a farm system lacking high-ceiling talent at his position, in part because before Thursday, the Mets had spent their top pick on an outfielder just once in the previous decade.
The Mets plan to "take things slow" with Conforto this summer, according to Paul DePodesta, vice president of amateur scouting, but they could aggressively promote him through the system from there.
"Not only is he a college player, this is a pretty polished college player," DePodesta said. "We'll see how it goes. We do think he's an advanced hitter, and certainly has a chance to move quicker than the high school players that we've taken the last few years."
Most of that will depend upon how Conforto adapts to life as a professional. Waking up on Thursday with the last lingering effects of an illness, he waited anxiously as the first nine names came off the board. Finally, the Mets stepped to the podium for pick No. 10.
"It was unlike anything I've ever experienced," he said. "When my name finally got called, it was an unbelievable moment -- just one of those moments where you realize that everything you've worked toward for your entire life has kind of culminated in one event. I couldn't put the feeling into words if I tried."