It’s Time to Believe in Wilmer Flores

It seems like an eternity ago when Wilmer Flores first hit the scene as a prospect in the Mets’ farm system. At the tender age of 17 he was already in full season ball down in Savannah and making the top 100 list of Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. That was all the way back in 2009. Fast forward to 2016, and Flores is still trying to carve out a role for the major league side, but the potential for greatness still remains.

There’s been many reasons for why Flores’ star has had trouble shining over the last 7 years. In the minors, after starting out with the aggressive assignment in 2009, the new regime of Sandy Alderson realized he was perhaps being rushed too swiftly through the system. Flores repeated Low-A in 2010, and spent two significant stints in St. Lucie, the team’s High-A affiliate. But in 2012, still only 20 years old, Flores seemed to start putting together the offensive tool set many prospect writers and scouts had thought he was always capable of. Between High-A and Double A Flores hit a combined .300/.349/.479 with 18 home runs. His prospect star begun to rise again, but was stunted by a mounting question: what position does he play?

Even now, Flores continues to bounce around all over the infield diamond. He spent the majority of his time between second base and shorstop to previous two seasons, even filling in for the injured Ruben Tejada in last fall’s unexpected run to the World Series. Now this year, with injuries to both David Wright and Lucas Duda, Flores has found himself primarily at the corners. He’s been a good soldier for the club and has played wherever he’s asked, with no complaining. And this is where we reach my pressing question: When will they allow Flores to become the everyday third basemen?

Despite the doubts, despite the skepticism that continues to surround Flores even now in the majors, he continues to prove the doubters wrong. While the additions of Yoenis Cespedes, Kelly Johnson, and Juan Uribe certainly played a major role in the team’s offensive surge in the second half, it was powered by players like Wilmer Flores. Post All-Star break last season, Flores hit .285/.311/.426 with an OPS+ 1o1 playing between second base and shortstop along the way. Definitely not MVP-caliber numbers, but it was progress shown by the then 23 year old at the time. Despite those positive strides, the team still did not feel comfortable committing to giving Flores an everyday role in 2016. So, even though the team allowed Murphy to leave in free agency, they made other moves to shore up the middle infield. They traded Jon Niese to the Pirates for Neil Walker, and signed Asdrubal Cabrera to a short term deal. Walker and Cabrera are fine veterans who can play a role, but neither performed at a level last season that made them clear improvements over playing Flores. But, alas, it seemed as if Flores was destined to be the 4th infielder or super-utility player for this team looking to return to the playoffs. And then this happened in June:

For the second year in a row, Wright is set to miss significant time due to injury. And considering the severity of Wright’s injury, it may not be wise to conclude Wright will ever be able to contribute a significant amount of time at the third base position ever again. Flores, admittedly, up until the Wright injury had not performed well in the bench role. His bat left much to be desired. But in the month of June, now given regular playing time, Flores showed improvement at the plate hitting .289/.353/.421 and a 105 OPS+. Still, the Mets weren’t convinced he could handle the role and did something that caused a maelstrom of controversy: They signed recently waived Jose Reyes to a minor league contract. The reasons for such controversy are well documented. In about a week’s time, Reyes was up and given the starting 3B job. Flores again finds himself bouncing around the diamond.

But, yet again Flores has proven he is up for the challenge. Flores followed up a solid June, by an even more impressive July. Last month Flores hit a stellar .290/.333/.623 and a 156 OPS+, with a power boost including 7 home runs just in the month of July splitting time between first and third base. Now Reyes has landed on the disabled list, giving Flores sole possession of the starting third base job. Moving forward, this should be the way things remain for the Mets. There is more benefit, in both the short term and long term of the franchise, to give Flores consistent playing time at the hot corner. With David Wright’s health uncertainty there is no guarantee how much he can play next season, or even if he can play third base at all moving forward. Neil Walker becomes a free agent this winter, and minor league options for the hot corner are slim. Flores presents a viable option at third base for the club to compete this season and beyond.

And at 24 years old, the sky is still the limit for Flores’ potential. One need only look in Arizona and look at the breakout season Jake Lamb is having for the Diamondbacks in his age 25 season. Prior to this season, Lamb seemed like a second division starter, or perhaps even bench player for the club. But the team stuck with him, and he’s rewarded them with an All-Star season and is one of the best third basemen in baseball this season. Am I saying Wilmer Flores will turn into Jake Lamb? Not at all, no one can predict that. But it does show the benefits that can come from giving a young player a chance to stick. Especially someone with Flores’ prospect pedigree. After all, who doesn’t want to see more moments like this at Citi Field:

Wilmer Flores first hit the scene as a prospect in the Mets’ farm system. At the tender age of 17 he was already in full season ball down in Savannah and making the top 100 list of Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. That was all the way back in 2009. Fast forward to 2016, and Flores is still trying to carve out a role for the major league side, but the potential for greatness still remains.”>

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