The secret to All-Star worthy, breakout seasons for Mets' Conforto and Twins' Sano
- Michael Conforto and Miguel Sano, both 24, have been turning heads this season with much-anticipated strong starts that should land them a spot in Miami for the Midsummer Classic.
MLB released its first All-Star voting tally earlier this week, and there are two notable omissions from the list of players currently in position for a starting nod. One player in question isn’t likely to show up anytime soon, given that his organization foolishly buried him on the bench to start the season, meaning that he isn’t on the ballot handed out to fans at games. The other is second at his position in his league but will be hard-pressed to pass the man in front of him, who is one of the brightest, and most well-known, young stars in the league. Even if they don't start, both Mets outfielder Michael Conforto and Twins third baseman Miguel Sano deserve to be in Miami for the Midsummer Classic on July 11 in some fashion, because the two 24-year-olds might be the best break out players in each league so far.
If Conforto played for any team other than the one in Queens, it would be impossible to fathom him starting the year on the bench. Of course, not only did that happen, but New York tried to spin it as something that made sense, which is only the fifth- or sixth-most asinine thing that has happened in Mets-land this season. Yet two months after starting the year as a fourth outfielder, Conforto is one of the lone bright spots in the club's lineup.
At the start of June, Conforto is hitting .309/.406/.623 with 13 homers, 10 doubles and 34 RBIs. He ranks in the top 10 in the NL in on-base percentage and slugging, and he would likely be there in homers and RBIs as well, had he not spent the first two weeks of the season as an irregular starter. And to think, he had to sit on the bench so that Curtis Granderson—who still has just a .199 batting average—could play every day at the start of the season.
Meanwhile, everything is going a whole lot better in Minnesota. The first-place Twins are one of the pleasant surprises of the first two months of the season, running neck-and-neck with the defending league champion Indians in the AL Central. Even if Minnesota falls off the pace, the mere fact that it is a competitive team after losing 103 games last year is a huge step in the right direction.
The Twins may not need to hunt as hard for bright spots as do the 23-29 Mets, but it’s still the emergence of a young star that shines through. Sano struggled through a frustrating 2016 season, his second year in the league, hitting a mere .236/.319/.462 and briefly being demoted to Triple A. Career paths are rarely linear, but it was shocking to see Sano’s performance fall so dramatically after he finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 behind a pair of dazzling young shortstops, Houston's Carlos Correa and Cleveland's Francisco Lindor.
Sano has put the ugliness of last season completely behind him, picking up on the trajectory he set for himself as a rookie. He enters June slashing .297/.411/.606 with 12 homers, eight doubles and 39 RBIs. Sano is third in the AL in OBP, fourth in slugging and third in OPS, showing off the sort of all-around offensive game that has him positioned to be one of the most dangerous hitters in the league for the next decade
If there’s one thing Conforto and Sano have in common, other than being the same age and playing like All-Stars, it’s the way they use the entire field. Most notably, Conforto and Sano have both driven the ball to the opposite field with consistency this season, as their spray charts through May can attest.
What’s most encouraging is the sort of foundation a hitter sets by going foul line to foul line. There’s no great way to attack a power hitter who won’t try to pull pitches on the outer third of the plate. Both players have the ability to not only use the entire field, but to hit the ball with power in every direction and that is what makes the twin breakouts of Conforto and Sano so promising.
Both players still have areas where they can improve. Conforto still hits too many ground balls for a player with his skill set, posting a nearly even ground ball/fly ball ratio over the first two months of this season. Sano still strikes out far too often, whiffing in 37% of his plate appearances. The positives, however, greatly outweigh those negatives, meaning that this year's All-Star Game won't be the last time we see them on one of the game's brightest stages.