PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Had Michael Conforto been a little less successful last season, just a tick less impressive, he would now be standing right alongside Los Angeles' Corey Seager and teammate Steven Matz as a National League Rookie of the Year favorite.Instead, Conforto had the gall to amass
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Had Michael Conforto been a little less successful last season, just a tick less impressive, he would now be standing right alongside Los Angeles' Corey Seager and teammate Steven Matz as a National League Rookie of the Year favorite.
Instead, Conforto had the gall to amass 174 big league at-bats, spending his rookie eligibility on last year's half-season. The nerve of the kid.
"It's tough to be bummed about having too many big league at-bats," Conforto said, laughing earlier this spring on the dugout bench. "I don't want to say that. It is what it is and I wouldn't trade anything from my experience last year."
In truth, Conforto's lack of rookie eligibility is not only a tangible sign of his success, but a significant reason why he is one of the few Mets who can reasonably expect a better season in 2016 -- a true breakout -- than in 2015.
-- 2016 Opening Day coverage --
Things were never supposed to happen this way. When the Mets promoted Conforto to the big leagues last July, straight from Double-A Binghamton and barely a year removed from his last college game, the move was meant to be temporary. The Mets had not yet traded for Yoenis Cespedes or anyone else who wound up transforming them down the stretch, so they asked Conforto for a quick gasp of offense.
He more than delivered, collecting four hits in his second career game and -- due in part to injuries elsewhere on the roster -- dodging multiple demotions. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Conforto was a significant part of the Mets' everyday lineup, despite the team's decision to shield him from left-handed pitchers.
That protective netting should be mostly gone this season, as Conforto warms to his role as the starting left fielder. Though Juan Lagares may ultimately butt into Conforto's playing time against lefties, and though a poor start to the season could even mean a ticket to Triple-A Las Vegas, no one in the lineup has more breakout potential than Conforto.
Said the once-but-no-longer-rookie: "I want to be a more complete player. A smarter player."
A better player, in other words, which would go a long way toward bettering the Mets.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.