The Wilmer Flores Defensive Questions

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Joe, via email:
Comment: For some time now we have heard that he doesn’t have the range to play shortstop and now finally the Mets have moved him off that position. It sounds like his best position might be 1B or 3B. However, the Mets currently do not have an ideal 2B in Daniel Murphy. How do you think Flores might be in the field at second base compared to Murphy? Hitting-wise, at least, Flores might project to be Murphy with more power.

 

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Lets start with what Flores has been doing recently. He’s hitting .307/.386/.465 with seven doubles, three homers, 11 walks and only 15 strikeouts in 27 games for the Bravos de Margarita in the Venezuelan Winter League. The 21-year old has played 21 games at third base and one at second, and for what it’s worth (not much) committed six errors. The VWL has averaged a .271/.346/.395 line. Flores is walking at a 9.5% rate, higher than in any of his domestic seasons while fanning in just 13% of his plate appearances. Dude can really hit.

 

Ben’s question first. Putting Flores in leftfield is a bad, bad idea. He’s just not fast enough to ever have better than well below average range in the outfield. No, he can’t learn to get faster. He’ll catch the balls that he can reach, but he will not reach enough in the outfield to be anything other than poor.

Flores at second is more appealing than in leftfield, but I still think that it would be a stretch. He is, and will always be, a second baseman with below average range. Again, he’ll field the grounders he can reach, but he will not reach enough of them. He has good hands and a plus arm, but his feet are slow, too slow for short, and too slow to play an average second base.

Reviews of his work at third, in his first year playing the position, went from poor in the early part of the season to questionable and tolerable in the warmer months.   Scouts seemed to think that if he hit enough, a manger or team would be willing to put up with defense at the hot corner.

As far as Flores versus Murphy defensively, I don’t think there’s any guarantee that the youngster will be better. There’s a small split in the defensive metric with respect to Murphy’s 2012 season: Total Zone Rating has him one run below average, BIS Defensive Runs Saved has him +1 and UZR has him nine runs below average. I really think Murphy is quicker than Flores. The Irish Hammer stole 14 bases in his last full minor league season in 2008 in 99 games. Flores has 14 stolen bases in 589 minor league games through his age 20/21 season. The nicest thing I heard about Flores’ work at second in 2012 was that he was still “learning” the postion.

So, again I’d like to see the Mets leave Flores at third in 2013. He has soft hands and strong arm. He will need to work hard to learn the reactions at the hot corner, but that’s his best (if not only chance) of retaining defensive value before sliding down to first base.

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