Baseball, more than any other major professional sport, is a game of adjustments. Even for highly touted players, the transition from Triple A to the majors can be an eye opener. The speed of the game increases – and not just the 95 mph fastballs or the outfielders who sprint to the gap to rob you of a sure double…….or the diving third baseman who snares your line drive and doubles the runner off first before you’re even out of the batter’s box…….
It’s a confidence
game and the ability to bounce back from failure determines who will be here tomorrow and ten years from now. But it’s a funny game that way though because it’s also about the ability to bounce back from success. How’s that?
Well, how often can you recall a player who earns a call up and tears up the league initially and then descends to earth…….never making the adjustments necessary to combat the adjustments that have been made to him…….
Because all of a sudden pitchers can get him swinging at sliders off the plate and in the dirt when he’s behind in the count. And the pitches that were in his sweet spot only weeks ago are now chalked up as mistakes by pitchers when and if they occur.
Such is the nature of competing at the highest level in baseball. Often, it’s a mind game where a player says, “Hey, wait a minute here. This is happening way too fast. I’ve always hit and I’ll hit again. Just run me out there and I’ll show you….”.
But for teams in the midst of a pennant race, that can present a myriad of problems……..
Michael Conforto, the budding All Star left fielder of the New York Mets was hitting .330 in the month of April and slicing line drives to all fields of the ballpark while driving in runs at a clip of two and three a game. Now, while he’s still a respectable presence in the lineup, pitchers have caught up to him and he’s what they call “struggling” at the plate. Plus, he’s being noticeably held out of the lineup by Terry Collins against left handers.
So while Collins gets a pass because he’s charged with putting his best men on the field every day, Michael Conforto (like Lucas Duda before him) has to be wondering how he’s supposed to improve and learn how to hit lefties if he never faces them. Welcome to the pressure and business of baseball, Michael.
No doubt that if Conforto was playing for the Cleveland Indians he’d be in the lineup everyday, but he isn’t. So, his adjustment time will take longer if it happens at all. Meanwhile, he needs to concentrate on making the adjustments he can make now and pass the pitchers who have caught up to him and reset the clock again.
He’s a talented player with a sweet swing so there’s no reason to believe he won’t, but for him there’s a lot to be thinking about these days. Think too much and everything can go haywire in this game though………
Which is where Terry Collins becomes critical in helping him to solve the puzzle. Finding the right lefties for him to face while juggling around the Kershaws and Lesters will help. He also has the benefit of maybe the best batting coach in the game today in Kevin Long.
Michael Conforto is searching for the curve in the learning curve where things begin to level out and the up and down blips disappear. Trevor Story (above right), the Rockies wonder boy is riding that high wave of glory right now. So is Nick Castellanos, (left) the Tigers second baseman who is challenging for a batting title and is almost 100 points over his career average of .266.
Their story, much like Michael Conforto’s, will depend on how they too handle the success they are having at the moment. Neither player is destined for the Hall of Fame – but when it’s time to make those adjustments, how will they react?
Conforto is in the midst of that battle right now and appears to be holding his own still hitting in the .280’s and is seventh in the league in doubles and 2nd in putouts (oh yeah, gotta work on that defense too) for a left fielder.
For all that, he’s a fun kid to watch and follow this year………