[sny-editorial userid="tobyhyde"]The Las Vegas 51s started Wilmer Flores at shortstop and Eric Campbell at second on Sunday and Monday.
Flores is listed at 6’3″, 203 lbs, while Campbell goes 6’3″, 207 lbs. Combined, that’s 12’6″, 410 lbs of middle infielder. If only they could set picks while turning double plays, or block baserunners going first to third, the Mets might really be onto something.
In both cases, Danny Muno finished the game at second for defensive purposes.[/sny-editorial]
The Mets have promised for over three weeks now that when Flores began his season in Triple-A, he would play shortstop. This is a pretty dramatic reversal for the Mets and Flores and a dramatic condemnation of the team’s options at short in the big leagues and upper minors.
Flores has not been a shortstop in the minors for over two full years — playing third, second and first base instead. Before playing at shortstop for Las Vegas on Sunday, his last game as a professional shortstop in American professional baseball was September 3, 2011 with advanced Single-A St. Lucie. Let’s put it another way: Over two years ago, the Mets decided that Flores did not have the range to play shortstop. They have spent the last two seasons trying to find him a position. Now, he’s back at short.
Flores spent much of the winter working out with Mike Barwis at his Michigan gym. He’s in better shape now at age 22 than in previous years. He’s still not going to play anything like a league average shortstop. I asked a pair of scouts, one of whom had seen Flores this spring, and one who has seen him many times over the last few years, what they thought of him playing shortstop. One laughed and the other shook his head. One, an American League evaluator, believed the only spot for him, given his slow feet was first base.
However, the Mets’ inclination to return Flores to shortstop makes sense given that there are really no other viable alternatives in the organization anywhere close to helping the big league team. Flores did hit .321/.357/.531 in Triple-A last year with 36 doubles and 15 homers in 107 games at age 22. And yes, he struggled in the big leagues. And yes, he should learn to be more selective as he walked under 6 percent of the time in both Triple-A and MLB, where the world’s best pitchers exploited his aggressive approach. In a world where Ruben Tejada gets injured or repeats his 2013 performance, Flores just might be the Mets’ best upper level option to get something from shortstop. The calculation would have to be that he provides enough with the bat to make up for his defensive shortcomings.
The other internal options at short in the upper minors are not starting options. Slick fielding Wilfredo Tovar hit .263/.323/.340 in 133 games in Double-A last year. This year, the Mets returned him to the level and he’s started three of his four games at second to make room for 2012 second-round pick Matt Reynolds at shortstop. Reynolds was a shortstop early in his college career, and then moved off the position at Arkansas to accommodate older teammates. The Mets returned him to short, where he’s been just adequate, while not hitting. He hit .226/.302/.337 in 117 games as a 22-year-old in advanced Single-A last year. He’s seven months older than Flores.
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the bag, while Flores is returning to his original position, Campbell is basically learning a new position on the fly at second, at the minors’ highest level. Campbell last played second for two games during his first professional season – six years ago, in 2008 with the Brooklyn Cyclones. To put that in perspective, that team had first round picks Ike Davis, Reese Havens and Brad Holt. In the intervening half decade, he’s played first, third and left field.
Campbell has shown that he can hit minor league pitching after an .830 OPS in Binghamton as a 25-year-old in 2012 and a .910 OPS in Vegas in 2013 at age 26. Still, this is his peak. I think it’s extremely unlikely that he can learn to play second base at anything resembling the level a MLB team would be comfortable with in the field everyday. At this point for him, it’s mostly about adding another tool to his bag to help extend a big league roster if he ever gets a call as a bench piece. It’s worth pointing out here that Campbell hit .339/.408/.596 against lefties last year in 125 PA in Vegas and .356/.461/.596 against them in 128 PA in Double-A in 2012. That’s a few years of beating up on southpaws. If Josh Satin does not work out as the right-handed half of the Mets first base platoon/utility guy, Campbell could get the next chance.
Flores at shortstop and Campbell at second looks jarring in a box score and on the field. Each player is more valuable for playing that position now, in April 2014 with Las Vegas, even if neither is a long term solution at his respective spot in the big leagues.