PORT ST. LUCIE — The ball had barely left Michael Conforto’s bat when the chatter began. The Mets outfielder had just taken a slider from the team’s 2017 top draft pick, David Peterson, and crushed it into the wind and deep onto the right-field berm.
“I got all of that one,” Conforto said. “That felt really good. It is good to see it fly.”
In the stands there were only about 75 people scattered around the stadium for the simulated game held on the Mets’ scheduled off day. There was a smattering of minor leaguers, reporters and friends and family gathered to watch Jacob deGrom throw a simulated game against minor league hitters, officially his second to last tuneup before the season.
But everyone left the ballpark talking about Conforto.
“Wow,” said one member of the front office. “He looks ready to go. That pretty much showed me he is not going to need to be down here until May 1, but we’ll see.”
But most likely, Conforto’s 2018 season will begin closer to that date than Opening Day. The Mets’ first-round draft pick in 2014 had surgery last September to repair the anterior capsule in his left shoulder.
He tore it in a gruesome injury, dislocating his shoulder on a swing last August.
The Mets have deliberately and carefully slow-walked him through every step of his rehab so far. So they will not even think about rushing him back to the big leagues, but Wednesday they were impressed with how far he has come in just over a week of hitting live pitching.
“He’s in a really good spot. We saw the ball’s coming off his bat when he squares it up,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “I don’t know how far that one was, that went a very long ways. The bat speed is there, he feels healthy, it’s just a matter of time before we can get him in a game.”
Callaway added that Conforto will not play in one of the three remaining Grapefruit League games this spring. But the Mets’ only 2017 All-Star is hopeful that he will be in the lineup Monday for the scrimmage against their Triple-A squad.
“I am assuming I will, I would think that I would,” Conforto said, obviously itching to get into any game. Then he sighed and got back on script: “But I am just looking at tomorrow.”
And that is how Conforto has managed his entire rehab: not thinking too far ahead.
“We’ve got to do it the right way,” he said the other day. “It’s hard not to think about (the season starting) and not be there, but I want to make sure I do it right and won’t have to do it again.”
So Conforto took the 11 at-bats the Mets let him have, going 3-for-11 with two homers against minor league pitchers, and stayed on script. So far, he has played three innings in the field, in a minor league game, and so he has to build up there as well.
“He hadn’t played the field past five, six innings, so mainly that kind of stuff,” Callaway said of what Conforto needs to do. “I think he has as many at-bats as (Yoenis Cespedes) and Jay Bruce. He’s on a good spot as far as that. We just have to get him out there on the field and get him playing and build him up to 9 innings.”
And for Conforto that brings him back to his mantra for this rehab, just looking at what is planned for the next day.
“I am going to be playing in the field more tomorrow. I think that’s just more of a cover-all-our bases thing. I want to make sure I am ready,” Conforto said. “It’s not so much about the shoulder anymore. Now it’s about getting up, hitting, throwing, standing out on the field, go make some plays and come back in and hit again.
“So I don’t anticipate any problems there,” Conforto added. “I have been doing all my conditioning. We got to do things the right way, make sure there is not anything left to do.”
Still, like the scouts, minor league coaches and front office personnel sitting in the stands watching Wednesday, Conforto had to admit to some anticipation.
“It seems so far away,” Conforto allowed himself to say, adding he “hopes” that maybe he can convince the Mets he doesn’t need 39 more days in Port St. Lucie crushing minor league pitching.
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