The Beginning of the Wilmer Flores Era

Wilmer FloresLate Monday night, the Mets announced that they were giving Wilmer Flores, who turns 22 on Tuesday, the best gift a ballplayer could ever want: his first big league callup.

Flores has had a strong season in the hitter-friendly environment of Las Vegas, hitting .321/.357/.531 with 36 doubles, four triples and 15 homers and 25 walks against 63 strikeouts in 463 PA over 107 games. His isolated slugging percentage is a career-best .210 as is his 11.9% extra-base hit rage. He’s walked in 5.4% of his plate appearances (too low) and fanned in 13.6% (wonderfully low). He’s 8th in the PCL in batting average, #2 in doubles, fourth in hits, tops in extra-base hits and second in total bases. Using wOBA, which (EDIT: does not) adjust for park environment, he’s 12th in the PCL (.385).

The previous paragraph pretty much covers what Flores does well: he hits. He makes consistent line drive contact. He might have had the best hand-eye-bat coordination I have ever seen in a-ball. He’s not an elite bat speed guy, but he has more than enough to catch up to any fastball. He’s not a major power in the sense that he won’t put on show at 5 pm in batting practice (or he did not used to), but he has plenty to make a pitcher pay for a mistake. He just makes barrel contact and lots of it. He has a balanced swing and handles velocity and breaking stuff. His strikeout rate of 13.6% is actually his highest of his minor league career. His walk rate has bounced around, peaking stateside at 7.3% in double-A in 2012 before slipping to 5.4% in AAA this year. If he has a flaw as a hitter, it is his knowledge that he can handle any minor league fastball, and swing at it, and probably put it in play reasonably hard somewhere. He will need to be a little more patient in the big leagues.

Defensively, he has soft hands and plenty of arm for any infield position, including third or short on the left side of the diamond.

Now for the negatives: 1. he’s slow and 2. because of that, he’s still looking for his everyday home on the diamond.

 

The table below tracks Flores’ games by position by year as a professional.

SS3B2B1B
200867
2009125
2010132
2011129
201287277
201347911
Total4539110618

 

When the Mets initially moved Flores off of shortstop to thirdbase in 2012, reviews from scouts were downright hostile. As the season wore on they became slightly more tempered to the point that his supporters felt his bat could carry him at third although his glove would likely always be below average. Flores, who had played some second base in winter ball in Venezuela, began playing the keystone stateside in 2012 to similarly poor reviews. The issue is not hands. It is simply range. He a big guy with slow feet. His bat plays best at second, but he will give back some of his value at the position to grounders that leak by him into the outfield. Blocked in the big leagues at third once the Mets re-signed David Wright, Flores played second base exclusively for Las Vegas except for one game at third on April 15, until he mixed in a game at first on May 12. He played first once every two or three weeks until early July when he played first base six times in 10 games from July 7 through July 24, sandwiched around a sprained ankle. Flores shifted back to third base Saturday and Sunday and played first and third on Monday night.

Defensively, I think the Mets would be best off in the near term with Flores at third base and Daniel Murphy at second. There’s a tradeoff between the fact that Flores’ footspeed works better at third than at second, and that he has played very little third base this year while Murphy has made himself into a solid second baseman and seen relatively little work at third. He’s going to field most of what’s hit to him where ever he plays. The question is how many balls he can reach.

I’m eager to see how Terry Collins deploys Flores defensively. I’m also looking forward to watching him hit, just because he can.