Michael Conforto, a Double-A outfielder with the New York Mets organization, got promoted to the major leagues Friday.
I generally don’t monitor the transactions column for news about the Mets, my least favorite team. (Grudges die hard for those of us who grew up loving life in August, only to get old and cranky in September, watching the 1969 Cubs.)
But Conforto’s call-up caught my eye because of his Seattle-area roots. He played on the 2004 Northwest team that advanced to the Little League World Series before becoming a baseball and football star at Redmond High.
Although some Ivy League schools showed interest in Conforto as a quarterback, he realized baseball posed more potential. Declining offers from Washington and Washington State, Conforto enrolled at Oregon State, where he wasted no time in establishing himself as a dominant left-handed hitter.
He drove in 76 runs as a freshman to set the Beavers’ single-season RBI record, led OSU to the College World Series as a sophomore, and earned his second consecutive Pac-12 Player of the Year award as a junior.
Eligible for the 2014 draft, Conforto impressed scouts but didn’t wow them the way, say, North Carolina’s Dustin Ackley wowed them in 2009. Conforto profiled as a first-half-of-the-first-round selection, the most polished college hitter of a draft class not teeming with polished college hitters.
The Seattle Mariners owned the sixth overall selection, and chose Alex Jackson, a high school catcher/outfielder from the San Diego area. A few minutes later, the Mets grabbed Conforto at No. 10.
Hampered by injuries and the inevitable challenges of adjusting to professional baseball directly out of high school, Jackson appears to be a long-range project. Reassigned from the Single-A Midwest League to the short-season Northwest League, he went into the weekend hitting .259, with two homers and 11 RBIs, through 23 games at Everett.
Conforto’s career is on a different trajectory. He began the spring in Single-A and raked, then was promoted to Double-A, and raked there, too. When outfielder Michael Cuddyer went on the disabled list with a knee injury, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson identified Conforto as Cuddyer’s replacement.
Normally, a 22-year-old with 133 games of minor-league experience — and a mere 45 games above Single-A — would be regarded as a temporary fill-in liberated from the pressure of great expectations. New York City is not normal.
“Mets summon Michael Conforto to save their lineup,” a New York Post headline blared Friday.
A Double-A call-up saving a lineup? Seriously?
The kid’s bloodlines suggest he’ll take on the task with his eyes steeled and his shoulders back. Conforto’s father played linebacker at Penn State, and his father’s athletic accomplishments pale in comparison to those of his mother. Tracie Ruiz won two gold medals in synchronized swimming during the 1984 Summer Olympics, and a silver medal in 1988.
It’s possible, to the point of probable, that major league pitchers will school Conforto with the kind of power and breaking stuff he’s not used to seeing. But it’s also possible Conforto will, uh, save the Mets lineup and be hailed as New York’s next young superstar.
I will be happy if this happens, but also frustrated by my sense that Mariners scouts tend to overlook the Seattle area in particular, and the Northwest in general.
Jon Lester, from Bellarmine Prep, was there for the taking in the 2002 draft that produced first-round choice John Mayberry Jr., who declined to sign.
Speedy Oregon State outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, a perfect fit for Safeco Field, was on the first-round board of a 2005 draft that turned into a fiasco. (Long story short: With the No. 3 pick in what is widely recognized as the most talented first-round class in the history of the draft, the M’s selected USC catcher Jeff Clement.)
A year later, the Mariners chose Cal pitcher Brandon Morrow instead of UW ace Tim Lincecum, and I presume you know how that turned out.
The Mariners employ about 40 full-time scouts, 25 regional scouts, and 60 associate scouts. They scour the world for prospects — one is assigned to the Czech Republic, another to South Africa — in the life-affirming belief that there’s a gem waiting to be found.
It’s way too early to label Michael Conforto as one of those gems, but I won’t be surprised if he stands up and delivers.
He’s from the Seattle area, where gems are unearthed by everybody but Mariners scouts.