If you followed any general baseball talk at the end of 2015, you should have heard about Michael Conforto’s contributions to the Mets and their playoff run. They needed another bat in the lineup, which prompted an early start to his MLB career. At the beginning of 2015, Conforto ranked in the 70-100 range of most prospects lists. He was an advanced bat because he signed out of college, so he’d likely progress quickly. That proved true, because by midseason he’d risen to a top-20 prospect. However, no one really attributed star status for him; he’d be a good big leaguer; maybe hit 20+ home runs with an okay batting average, and that was it. After his 2015 campaign, I have to say Conforto is one of the rare rookies/prospects that I fully buy into, and I expect great things from him in the near future. Dynasty leagues will want to buy now before his price explodes and he becomes untouchable.
One of the things scouts were worried about were strikeouts, given his short uppercut swing. However, his K% of 20.1% was quite reasonable, especially when one considers that strikeouts are a very accepted part of today’s offense. When looking at the top-30 hitters in 2015 on FanGraphs, 10 of them had a worse K% than Conforto. As long as he avoids a huge sophomore slump, he’ll be fine. He does walk at a decent rate, and though his K/BB dropped some from double-A to the majors, that’s to be expected because he was facing major league pitching for the first time. He has a mature approach, and he improved his plate discipline throughout college and in the minors (8.3% in A+, 11.7% in AA). There’s a good chance that he improves at the major league level as well, which can only add to his fantasy value.
What’s more, he has a contact rate slightly above average, at 78%. One worry I have about Kris Bryant is the scarily low contact rate of 64%. Conforto (17%) slightly beat Bryant’s HR/FB ratio of 16%, but he also makes more contact. Conforto walked a bit less than Bryant, but his K% is much better so his K/BB was a bit better than Bryant’s. On the flip side, Bryant held up his production and style of play for an entire season, whereas Conforto only play for about two months. Also, Bryant had a higher FB%, so even with a slightly lower HR/FB ratio, he’d hit more total home runs over a season. I don’t deny Bryant’s top-tier status, but given that Conforto can be competitive with him in a few ways, it makes sense to hope for more from Conforto than what people had estimated at the beginning of the year (.265+ BA, 20+ HR).
Conforto’s contact rate is certainly better than some had hoped, but more important to me is that his hard contact rate is well above league average. A 23% line drive rate is good, but not amazing on its own. I don’t project him to do any worse than his 2015 batting average. If anything, given his hard hit rate and only league average BABIP from 2015, it’s more likely his average goes up in the future due to a potentially higher BABIP. Add in his uppercut type swing and ability to hit the ball hard, and he’s also a good bet to break 25 HR next year. If he manages to generate a few more fly balls like Bryant, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see 30 HR in 2016.
What are the downsides to his game? Well, he doesn’t run, so there’s no SB potential, but tons of sluggers don’t steal bases. Hey, not everyone can be a five-tool guy. His defense isn’t great, but he’s young enough to improve, and his power bat should keep him in the lineup no matter what. Defense doesn’t directly affect fantasy stats anyway, so I’m not worried there.
What are my early expectations? As I’ve already said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him hit .280 with 25 HR in the near future. Long term is always tricky because there are a lot of variables, but his consistent, hard contact and uppercut swing make me optimistic that he will reach .300 at least a few times in his career, and I really believe he has 30+ home run power at his peak. He may not have the truly elite ceiling of someone like Harper or Bryant, but I put him only a step below them in terms of long-term potential. This is why I ranked him #8 in our dynasty outfield rankings, when others had him outside the top-30. Keeper league managers, get out your checkbook and pay full price to acquire Conforto. You’ll want his bat in your lineup for the next five-plus years.
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