First-Round Pick Conforto Has Been Catalyst for Brooklyn’s Resurgence
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Michael Conforto doesn’t think of himself as a savior.
Even if everyone else does.
But the Mets’ first-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft has, at the very least, provided just the spark the previously slumping Brooklyn Cyclones needed to get back in the thick of the New York-Penn League playoff race.
Having arrived with the Baby Bums in the throes of an ugly eight-game losing streak, Conforto bolstered an anemic offense with his sizzling hot bat and has also provided solid defense in left field.
Even more importantly, his uncanny patience at the plate has had an influence on his fellow batters as Brooklyn’s offense is finally starting to click in time with one of the best pitching staff’s on the 15-team circuit.
“We had scored six or more [runs] one or two times before he got here and it's happened a half a dozen times since he's been here,” noted Cyclones first-year manager Tom Gamboa of Conforto’s presence in the lineup.
“His influence on the other guys, the way he will take pitches and not get himself out on pitcher's pitches, is a good influence on the other guys too.
A lot of our other young guys, on a nightly basis, will chase balls in the dirt or over their head and put themselves in a bad count right from the start,” added Gamboa after watching Brooklyn edge Connecticut, 4-3, Monday night in front of 6,187 fans at Coney Island’s MCU Park.
Conforto, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored in the triumph, insists that his arrival on Surf Avenue on July 19 hasn’t been the key to Brooklyn going 12-5 since its season-high losing streak.
“I know that we had been struggling the week before I showed up,” admitted Conforto, who received a reported $2.97 million signing bonus from the Mets after completing a three-year stint at Oregon State University earlier this summer.
“I came in and had a hit here and there that sparked a couple of things,” he humbly added. “As a whole, our team has played really well. I have nothing to do with the pitching or the way the defense has been. I think overall we're playing the game well and doing everything right.”
Though Conforto remains modest, his numbers are anything but.
The 21-year-old left-handed batter boasts a .355 batting average and a stunning .971 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, having hit safely in all but three of his first 17 games as a professional while failing to reach base just once in those contests.
He blasted his first two homers on consecutive nights against the visiting Tigers to open the series, helping Brooklyn take two of three in the critical set as the Cyclones (27-24) forged a tie with Connecticut (27-24) atop the NY-Penn Wild-Card standings.
After remaining idle following his participation in this year’s College World Series with OSU, Conforto is happy to be back on the diamond and in the thick of what figures to be a tooth-and-nail battle with the Tigers for the league’s final postseason berth.
Both clubs are three games clear of Staten Island and Williamsport in the heated race.
“It's exciting (being in the wild-card race),” Conforto ceded. “We know that every game counts at this point. We're at a place where we don't have a lot of games to give away getting toward the end of the season. It's a bit different than a lot of the teams in the league. We come with a lot of intensity because we want to win every game here on out, get that wild card and see what we can do in the playoffs.”
On Monday night, Conforto singled home Amed Rosario and scored on Michael Bernal’s base hit to right as Brooklyn put up three quick runs in the bottom of the opening frame.
Starter Casey Meisner (2-3) posted his second consecutive victory after going winless in his first seven starts of the summer, limiting the Tigers to one earned run on six hits over six innings with six strikeouts.
The 6-foot-7 Texan did not walk a batter before turning the game over to relievers Carlos Valdez and Shane Bay, who recorded the final four outs for his 10th save.
“The pitching, historically the Mets organization has always been a pitching organization and certainly we're benefiting from that,” Gamboa said. “It's why we were able to be competitive before Conforto came.
“There was a time when we were last in runs scored and highest in strikeouts,” he added. “But we were still competitive in the league at .500 because our pitching was so good.”
And now, with Conforto in the mix, the Cyclones are once again vying for a shot at the franchise’s first championship since the inaugural 2001 campaign.
This, That and the Other Thing: While Conforto’s bat has helped solidify the lineup, and Cyclones hurlers continue to dominate, it was a key defensive play that highlighted Monday’s triumph. With a runner at third and one out in the top of the sixth, Steven Fuentes launched a fly ball to right that could have plated an additional run for the Tigers if not for the strong throwing arm of Bernal. Brooklyn’s right fielder caught the ball in stride and fired a perfect strike to home plate to nail Joey Pankake, who went 4-for-4 and finished a homer shy of the cycle, to preserve what was then a 3-2 lead. … The Cyclones got the day off Tuesday and were headed to Mahoning Valley, where they will kick off a six-game road trip against the ValleyCats and Batavia. … Brooklyn returns home Aug. 12 to kick off a three-game homestand against Lowell. … Bay’s 10 saves are second only to Lowell’s Carlos Pinales, who leads the league with 12.