All-Star Conforto always believed in himself

All-Star Conforto always believed in himself

MIAMI -- Michael Conforto was a high-school star, a collegiate All-American, a first-round Draft pick and a Minor League sensation. His father and sister were Division I athletes. His mother, an Olympic gold medalist. There was a natural progression to Conforto's career that never had much to do with failure.

"I always felt like I was supposed to be here," Conforto said Monday while resting at a podium just beneath Marlins Park's Home Run Sculpture. To his left and right sat the National League's upper crust, more than two dozen other All-Stars discussing their roads to Miami for the Midsummer Classic.

Conforto's lasted two years. Thing is, it wasn't supposed to take even that long.

For the first time in his life last season, Conforto struggled, falling to depths he never previously had to explore. On his way up the Minor League ladder, Conforto skipped right over Triple-A. Last season, the Mets demoted him there.

The ensuing year has forced Conforto to prove all over again what he thought he already knew.

"I definitely made it a goal of mine," Conforto said of not just bouncing back, but making the All-Star team. "I knew I had the ability to get there. It was just about being more consistent. It was about doing everything I could to become a more solid overall player."

Pardon the Mets, and pardon Conforto, if neither saw his regression coming. Though calling up Conforto barely a year removed from college was not what general manager Sandy Alderson initially had in mind in July 2015, the move worked out better than the front office ever expected. Down the stretch that season, Conforto hit .270 with nine home runs in 56 games. He added a multi-homer game in the World Series. He was New York City's next star.

Conforto's great day at the dish

Heading into the following spring, the Mets guaranteed Conforto a starting outfield job -- a decision he says, in retrospect, may have contributed to his demise. Conforto can't quite place why he hit just .220 in 2016, earning his first trip to Triple-A along the way. But he understood what he had to do next, lugging an iPad with him to his offseason training field in Washington so that Mets hitting coaches Kevin Long and Pat Roessler could evaluate him from afar.

Under the tutelage of those two, Conforto rebuilt his swing from the lower legs up, allowing him to spray balls again to all fields. Of Conforto's 14 home runs this year, more than half of them have gone to center or left.

"I felt like there were more holes [in his swing] last year and the season before," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "There were places to go. And it seems like he's closing off those holes."

Conforto's great defensive plays

Conforto is no longer blind to the fact that struggles will find him again; even now, his 10-for-49 funk and lingering left-hand bruise made his All-Star selection a mild surprise. But he is more confident than ever that whatever befalls him, he'll ultimately end up back here on an All-Star stage, side by side with the game's best.

"There definitely was never a moment where I doubted that," Conforto said. "I knew it was just a matter of putting the work in. I knew the ability was there. I can honestly say that there wasn't a moment where I ever doubted whether or not I was supposed to be playing Major League Baseball, whether I had what it takes to be very successful."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.