Mets OF Michael Conforto told the NY Post that he expects to play in a Grapefruit League game at some point next week as he continues to work his way back from last summer's shoulder surgery.
The Mets and Sandy Alderson had been saying all winter that Conforto was not likely to return to the team's roster until at least May 1. And I believe this is still the targeted return date, despite Conforto looking to be slightly ahead of schedule in his rehab.
In Conforto's absence, Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares are expected to rotate in and out of center field, while Jay Bruce handles right field. Upon his return, I'm told Conforto will ease in to playing center field, while rotating in and out of right and left field with Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes.
The thing is, with no obvious answer to handle first base right now, the Mets may want to revisit getting Bruce time on the infield...
Alderson's long-term option at first base, 22-year-old Dominic Smith, has had a rough spring training. First, he was exiled to a secondary field to do drills with Adrian Gonzalez getting time with the expected big-league infielders. Then, Smith was late to a meeting and was benched. Then, hen tweaked his quad. He hasn't played in a game since Feb. 24, was expected to play today, isn't, and told reporters he has no idea why...
It's unfortunate for Dom, because Gonzalez is struggling and now hitting just. 185, while striking out seven times in 27 at-bats.
"He's just not totally comfortable at the plate yet," Mets manager Mickey Callaway told reporters this past weekend about Gonzalez. "The good part is he is probably going to get another 30 at-bats before the end of spring and he's a professional hitter. I think his approach is good."
Gonzalez signed for the league minimum salary as a free agent with the Mets in December after being released by the Braves, who acquired him in a salary-dump trade with the Dodgers. He will be paid $22 million by Atlanta this summer.
"He is a guy who has been through a lot, learned how to take care of himself," Jay Bruce recently said of Gonzalez, according to the NY Post. "He's had some injuries, he's a pro."
"He's also bilingual, which maybe sounds funny, but it means a lot," Bruce continued. "We have one of the best young prospects in the game [Rosario] playing shortstop every day and to have someone like Adrian Gonzalez there to kind of assist him along the way is really important."
This is all true, every word of it, plus his fielding continues to be terrific, all of which is why he'll almost certainly be the Opening Day starter at first base.
However, as I injected earlier, what happens when Conforto is fully healthy and ready to play every day in center or right field and Gonzalez still isn't hitting?
I realize if you average out left- and right-handed splits from the last two seasons for Gonzalez and Wilmer Flores it can look like they'd produce a very productive first base platoon. However, Gonzalez isn't showing himself to be capable of doing more at the plate than he did when underwhelming last season there for the Dodgers.
If Gonzalez can return to hitting like he did in 2016, especially against righties, then he and Flores will find themselves combining to be one of the better first basemen in the National League. On the other hand, if Gonzalez continues to hit like he did last year, the Mets are going to be short on offense four or five times every week...
The thing is, this combination also produces well if Flores is instead teamed up with Bruce.
In fact, Bruce's numbers against right-handed pitchers the last two seasons look exactly like Gonzalez's. The difference is that while Gonzalez has looked old at the plate during the last six months, Bruce is still firing on all cylinders.
I truly believe, based on their recent past, that Bruce and Flores could combine to hit .300 with 50-to-60 extra base hits if they split time across 145 games or so. Unfortunately, after he signed to rejoin the Mets, Bruce told reporters that while he enjoyed playing first base in 2017, he would prefer to only be there in case of emergency in 2018.
Is it an emergency if Gonzalez is playing sensational defense and helping to nurture Rosario, but at the same time hitting .180 at the end of April while the Mets' outfield is overcrowded? Maybe, maybe not. But, while we wait to see how it plays out, I suggest Bruce dust off his first base mitt... just in case.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!