I cringe when I read this label being put on a guy. It's like we're looking to anoint the hitting version of Mark "Perfect Mechanics" Prior. Whatever happened to Mike Prior anyway? And if Conforto has such "perfect" mechanics, shouldn't they allow him to hit LHP's a little better?
Just asking and I like Conforto and he has a "great" swing. Great, not perfect.
Evolution of Mets phenom Michael Conforto's 'perfect swing'Michael Conforto swung and the scout sitting in the stands at MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, marveled as the ball soared over the right-field fence, despite the stiff wind blowing in off the ocean.
"It was a perfect swing," the scout recalls. "It was like you were watching a movie. I thought to myself, 'That's the nicest swing I've ever seen at a ballpark.'
"You know how many swings I see every year?"
The scout, a longtime veteran who works for an organization other than the Mets, is going back to 2014 for the anecdote, not long after the Mets had drafted Conforto 10th overall and sent him to their short-season Class A team on Coney Island. Conforto was just 21 years old at the time.
But his gorgeous swing, the one that now makes pitchers quake on the mound and Keith Hernandez swoon in the Mets' broadcast booth, began evolving long before.
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Conforto, the Mets' No. 3 hitter, has been hearing about the beauty of his cut since he played in the Redmond North Little League in the Seattle suburbs. It's been tweaked, upgraded and streamlined since then by "a lot of great coaches," Conforto says.
And, of course, by Conforto's own natural ability and his feel for keeping what works for him and discarding the rest. Mix in the knowledge of situational hitting and patient approach he learned under Pat Casey at Oregon State and you have a hitter who started Monday seventh in the National League in both hitting (.342) and slugging percentage (.633).
The evolution hasn't stopped, either – Mets' hitting coach Kevin Long helped him with a key stride change last year while Conforto was struggling that's helped Conforto surge into the No. 3 slot in the Met lineup.
"If you were going to build a hitter and had to put a body and a mind together, Michael is as close as you can get to intertwining them into an ideal," Casey says.
Michael Conforto has had scouts gushing over his swing since he was drafted by the Mets.
Conforto's head barely moves as he tracks the pitch and wallops it. At one point, watching the clip, Long chuckles and mutters, "Ohhhh," marveling at what he's seeing.
Conforto's stride doesn't go forward because he picks his front foot – his right foot – up and puts it down in nearly the same place. He generates remarkable torque with his legs and hips – both Long and Casey rave about the strength of Conforto's lower body.
"You see a guy who stays very balanced and centered throughout his swing," Long says. "His head doesn't move. This is what makes him special. Everyone sees the pretty swing, but, mechanically, this is as sound as it gets.
"It's Yoenis Cespedes from the left side of the plate. Yoenis has no movement, either."
It's not easy to keep your head from moving when a man standing 60 feet, six inches away can throw 95 miles per hour or more, Long says. Asked to name a couple, Long says Minnesota's Joe Mauer, the owner of three batting titles, and the electric Cespedes.
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"If your head moves toward the pitcher, it speeds everything up," Conforto says. "If it moves to the side, it will skew your vision."
Conforto stays so still it enhances his strike-zone discipline. "There's no jumping," Long says. "So if you want to throw him an off-speed pitch, OK, so be it. Take your chances.
"You want to throw him a fastball? OK, go ahead, try to do it."
Most hitters, Long explains, "gain distance" with their strides during their swings. But going forward just "makes hitting harder," the coach says.
With such supreme body control, Conforto is now in a perfect position to, as Long puts it in hitting jargon, have "his lower half synch up with his hands. His back foot starts to turn, his back knee starts to drive down and through and his hips get through and then the barrel (of the bat) flies through (the hitting zone).
"And then the extension he gets is incredible. He gets that as well as anybody you'll ever see."
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Conforto moves up to the No. 3 spot in the Mets lineup after making adjustments with hitting coach Kevin Long.
"He was just getting exposed inside," Long recalls. On video, it became apparent to the Mets that Conforto had moved off the plate – Conforto estimates it was about three and a half inches, perhaps to try to overcome his struggles with inside offerings. But the change in position changed his stride, too, and all of a sudden he was striding toward the plate.
"When you're doing that, it makes it tough for you to get to the inside pitch – there's no path for your hands," Conforto says. Long suggested that Conforto move his back foot closer to the plate. That would force his stride toward the pitcher, even if it ended up as merely an up-and-down movement.
"Once we made that adjustment, it really freed up a little space for me to use my hips and get my hands in and still not give up anything out over the plate. I was hitting well going the other way, but once pitchers found out they could come in on me, that was where the problem was. That's the whole thing of coming up into the big leagues – they find your weakness quickly."
Conforto's never minded the work, say those who know him. He's a swing junkie who likes to watch video of other hitters, something he did often over the winter at the batting cages run by Ray and Cody Atkinson in Kirkland, Wash., where he hits during the off-season.
Some other swings he admires? "I really like Carlos Gonzalez's swing," Conforto says. "I loved Ken Griffey Jr. growing up. I always wanted to swing like him. I think Bryce Harper's swing is incredible, just how it's so powerful but at the same time he can square balls up so consistently. I think that's incredible. The way his lower half works is amazing as well. Michael Brantley – I like how simple his is.
"When you look at that stuff, you kind of realize that there's no one way to do it. It's what feels right for you, not a cookie-cutter thing. Look at Hunter Pence."
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Conforto hits his fourth home run in a 3-for-4 day on Saturday.
"He prepares without overloading himself," Long says.
He's got further work to do, too, which he knows. Entering Monday, Conforto was hitting just .188 against lefties this year, with no extra-base hits.
In fact, Conforto has never had a regular-season extra-base hit against a left-hander, though he did homer off Royals' lefty Danny Duffy in the World Series.
But the Mets are giving him more chances against lefties lately and he's got plenty of raw material to work with – that marvelous mix of torque and mechanical precision that is his swing.
As the scout puts it, "A beautiful swing like that doesn't come along very often."
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