Conforto working his way back with Giants

February 22nd, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A year ago, was unsigned and stuck in the doldrums of rehab, trying everything he could to avoid surgery on his right shoulder. Those efforts went for naught: Conforto eventually went under the knife to repair his throwing shoulder, which he injured while training in January 2022.

The procedure sidelined Conforto for all of last season, robbing him of the clubhouse camaraderie that had long been an integral part of his life in baseball. After a year away from the game, Conforto is relishing the opportunity to be back in action with the Giants, who signed the 29-year-old outfielder to a two-year, $36 million contract over the offseason.

“I’m much happier this year,” Conforto said. “Spring is a time for everyone to get their legs under them, get back into the routine. It’s not the most exciting time of year, especially before games start. But I’m waking up and jumping out of bed. I’m so excited to get to the park.

“You lose that sense of community that you have. All these guys, we’re all pulling for the same goal. That’s something I didn’t really think about when you don’t play for a year. It’s good to have the group back.”

Conforto is impressing his new teammates with his sweet left-handed swing, which produced a 128 OPS+ over his first six seasons with the Mets. He had three straight years (2017-19) with at least 27 home runs.

While facing right-hander in live batting practice at Scottsdale Stadium on Monday, Conforto ripped a couple of balls over 100 mph, most notably a booming drive off the wall in left-center field.

“I can’t wait for him to show us what he’s capable of,” said infielder , Conforto’s former Mets teammate. “That swing, I’ve seen it over there for three years now. It’s dynamic. It’s pretty cool to watch him be back out here and have a smile back on his face, because he’s been out for so long. He’s been out for a year, so I’m happy for him and excited to see what he can do.”

The Giants plan to be cautious with Conforto, who likely will serve as a designated hitter for the first two weeks of Cactus League games as he continues to rebuild his arm strength and work on his throwing progression. Conforto said his surgically repaired shoulder feels good, giving the club confidence that he’ll be ready to join fellow newcomer in one of the corner outfield spots on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on March 30.

“Really, really beautiful swing, and physically in great condition,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “His shoulder is better than I would have anticipated at this point. He’s really built up well. I’ve watched so much of his catch play. You can see it improving every time he goes out there. The carry on his ball makes me feel like he can play left or right.”

Giants newcomer Michael Conforto takes batting practice during Spring Training workouts at Scottsdale, Ariz.

If Conforto rediscovers the All-Star form he flashed with the Mets in 2017, he could end up being a steal for the Giants, who have not had a 30-homer hitter since in 2004. He’ll have no shortage of motivation to stay healthy and perform, because his contract includes an opt-out clause following the 2023 season if he reaches 350 plate appearances this year.

“My situation was pretty unique,” Conforto said. “It’s something that can work both ways. It can protect me and my ability to jump back into the market. But it’s kind of the furthest thing from my mind. I’ve still got to get into a Spring Training game, and then from there I’ve got to get into a real game. So we’ll see how that all plays out. But it was something that we brought to the table just to try to get creative with the structure of the contract.

“Having that second year for security is nice, as well. I’m looking to be healthy this year, and then we’ll worry about all that stuff when the time comes.”