Conforto on Schwarber-like 2016 struggles: Demotion ‘valuable for me’
NEW YORK — The kid outfielder made World Series headlines and was handed a starting job the next season despite having played fewer than 75 career games in the big leagues.
What could go wrong?
‘‘I guess things kind of turn around pretty quick on you,’’ he said.
If that sounds like the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber, that’s because it basically is — separated by maybe 800 miles and a season.
It’s also lefty slugger Michael Conforto, who spoke from the Mets’ clubhouse and from perhaps a deeper understanding of Schwarber’s struggles this season than any player in the majors.
The Cubs liked Conforto as the potential No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft, but they liked Schwarber even better.
They both broke into the majors in 2015 — barely a year after they were drafted (Conforto 10th overall) — and both starred in a World Series. Conforto went 5-for-15, including a two-home-run game, in the Mets’ five-game loss to the Royals in 2015. Schwarber went 7-for-17
in the Cubs’ seven-game victory against the Indians last season after missing nearly all of the regular season and the first two playoff rounds with a knee injury.
And now? Schwarber is recreating Conforto’s .220 sophomore season in what is essentially his own sophomore season.
After two minor-league demotions last season to regroup and regain his confidence, Conforto has been one of the Mets’ top hitters this season and a potential All-Star. And while the Cubs steadfastly have refused to consider a demotion for the .178-hitting Schwarber, Conforto said he now sees the value in the demotions.
‘‘Had it been my decision, I would have wanted to stay with the big-league club and figure it out at the big-league level,’’ he said. ‘‘But [by going down], you gain some confidence back. You see some hits fall in, feel the barrel of the bat a little bit. So I think it was valuable for me.
‘‘Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything about the way everything went down. It ended up being a positive thing for me.’’
By contrast, the Cubs force-fed the leadoff spot on Schwarber and stayed with him through six weeks of struggles before dropping him in the order and eventually sitting him against lefties.
Since appearing to bottom out with three homers in a 3-for-44 stretch, Schwarber has shown more signs of life with a shortened stroke and a pair of multihit games. That included Wednesday, when he became the first player to hit a ball over the Shea Bridge beyond the wall in right-center at Citi Field.
It’s impossible to know whether it’s a sign of anything more than taking advantage of a spotty Marlins staff last week and ailing Mets starter Matt Harvey on Wednesday. Schwarber was 2-for-15 between his multihit games.
‘‘You get to a point where everyone you’re facing is spotting up 95 [mph], and they’ve got great off-speed stuff,’’ Conforto said. ‘‘You’ve just got to be able to take a step back, catch your breath a little bit. I think that’s why you see it so often is [young] guys just haven’t been through it.
‘‘Most first-rounders, they don’t go through that level of struggle ever in their lives. They’re guys who have never hit under .300, that type of thing. So it’s a new experience.’’
It’s what Cubs manager Joe Maddon means when he keeps saying his team is hitting young. Among struggling first-round picks Addison Russell, Ian Happ and Schwarber, none has two full seasons in the majors. On Wednesday, Schwarber played in his 162nd career game — at all levels of pro ball combined.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said last season he probably waited too long to send Conforto down the first time.
Conforto said he doesn’t know where he would be now if he had been allowed to fight through his struggles at the big-league level all season in 2016. But he knows struggling is common, even for great young players.
‘‘There’s always a period of struggle in the big leagues,’’ he said.
As for Schwarber, his friend and former Team USA teammate, Conforto said: ‘‘All I’ve ever seen him do is play well and perform. He’ll get back to the type of player he knows he is. I’m confident in that because I’ve seen it before.’’
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