Baseball America periodically takes a closer look at a prospect who is either just arriving to the majors or on the cusp of doing so, providing a look at what can be expected from them in real life and also for fantasy purposes.
The Mets shifted Wilmer Flores back to shortstop in spring training after the 22-year-old played primarily second base in Triple-A last year and third base in Double-A in 2012. As correspondent Adam Rubin reported in March, Flores attended a fitness, agility and nutrition camp in the offseason rather than play in the Venezuelan League, which had been his winter custom, and that level of dedication impressed general manager Sandy Alderson.
The Mets had nothing to lose by moving Flores back to his natural position. New York shortstops are hitting .189/.291/.216 this season, good for a .508 OPS than ranks 28th out of 30 clubs. They ranked 26th in that category in 2013, and presumed-regular-of-the-future Ruben Tejada has hit .197/.272/.245 (50 OPS+) over 325 plate appearances in that time to forfeit his claim to the position.
The Mets will keep Tejada around because he’s young (24) and, more crucially, because he’s out of minor league options, but so too is Omar Quintanilla, so Flores’ callup necessitated that the 32-year-old veteran be designated for assignment.
While Flores is versatile in the sense that he can play any infield position, his bat will be his ticket to playing time in the big leagues because his slow first step and well-below-average speed make him an imperfect fit at any spot but first base. Going 15-for-32 (.469) with four homers and three doubles during his past 10 games has lifted Flores’ season line to .307/.360/.500 through 114 at-bats at Triple-A Las Vegas.
An aside: SABR president Vince Gennaro said at the annual Analytics Conference that he envisions a day when a defender’s reliability and sure-handedness will take precedent over pure range because advanced data will help teams to optimally position each defender. (Think of all the contending teams Jhonny Peralta has played for.) This could explain why the Mets don’t appear to be fretting Flores’ potential for negative defensive value. This season he leads Pacific Coast League shortstops with seven errors (four throwing, three fielding) but also with 82 assists and 21 double plays.
Flores began turning on the inside pitch for home run power in 2012, when he hit a career-best 18 homers at two levels, though his natural power stroke carries the ball to right-center field. Take as an example his first big league home run last Aug. 11, when he lined a 92 mph Heath Bell fastball out the other way.
While he doesn’t work many deep counts, Flores has impressive bat control and the hand-eye coordination to hit different pitch types, as attested to by his Triple-A strikeout rate of just 14 percent.
What To Expect
Flores’ bat-to-ball skills and occasional power make him a worthwhile flier at middle infield (once he qualifies at shortstop in fantasy) or utility in deeper NL-only leagues. The Mets said that a turned ankle cut into his mobility and power production during his big league callup last summer, so with health and more experience under his belt, he should easily outproduce his 2013 batting line of .211/.248/.295 (54 OPS+) in 95 at-bats.
Just don’t expect any speed or for Flores to replicate the .318/.357/.524 batting line that he compiled for Las Vegas during the past two seasons. The parks of the PCL particularly favor high-contact batters with solid power, like Flores, because not only do flyballs carry well, but groundballs have a greater chance to evade defenders on the hard, sun-baked infields of the Southwest. For example, Flores hit .354 on balls in play at home, though his power was distributed equally at home (.183 isolated power) and on the road (.211).