Wilmer Flores has been a top position player prospect for the New York Mets since he signed as an international free agent in 2007. Now that he’s made his MLB debut six years later, will he have a role with the Mets in the big leagues for 2014?
After putting together a .300/.349/.479 line with 18 home runs and 75 RBI between St. Lucie and Binghamton in 2012, his final minor league test came last season in Triple-A with the Las Vegas 51s.
He didn’t disappoint in his age-21 season, becoming a force in Wally Backman’s lineup. Flores hit .321/.357/.531 with 15 home runs and 86 RBI in 107 games prior to getting promoted on his 22nd birthday.
A hamstring injury to David Wright left Flores’ natural position of third base open for him upon his arrival to Flushing. His time in the majors started well—he drove in nine runs through his first six games.
However, an ankle injury in Los Angeles slowed his production and reduced his time on the field. Flores finished the season with a .211/.248/.295 line, including one home run and 13 RBI in 95 at-bats (27 games played). The injury prevented the Mets from seeing what Flores was truly capable of.
When talking about Wilmer’s future in baseball, his bat has rarely been the question—the unknown is what position on the field he’ll stick at. He's spent time at shortstop and third base before moving to play second base for the 51s. He also saw time at first base before making it to the majors.
Heading into 2014, every position Flores could potentially occupy is currently filled—David Wright has third base locked down, Daniel Murphy is at second base and there will be a competition between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda for first.
According to a report from Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, manager Terry Collins is anxious to see Flores on the field, especially at second base.
I want to see him at the position he's going to play. This kid is going to swing the bat.
He’ll likely get a long look there during spring training, but he won’t be unseating Murphy. If Flores does perform well enough in camp, he could head north with the team as a valuable bench player instead of heading back to Vegas.
One school of thought is that it would be a detriment to Flores’ development if he’s in the big leagues playing two or three games a week instead of playing every day in the minors. While this holds some truth, he can certainly benefit from being a bench player.
Being a reserve in the major leagues is probably the toughest job in baseball. Not knowing when you’ll be called upon to get in the game forces a player to always be mentally and physically ready. A player as young as Flores can learn a lot while observing different game situations unfold.
Teams have used top starting pitching prospects as relievers in their rookie seasons to help them get adjusted to life in the big leagues—why can’t the same be done with position players?
Adam Wainwright appeared in 61 games as a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. He saved four games in the postseason, throwing one nasty curveball all Mets fans will remember forever. In 2007, he made 32 starts for the Red Birds, winning 14 games.
The Atlanta Braves did something similar with Kris Medlen in 2012. The right-hander appeared in 50 games overall, starting 12. He was used as a reliever in the first half, and then was put into the rotation for the second half because the Braves knew he wouldn’t come close to his innings limit.
It’s a process that makes sense—teams give top prospects a taste of life in the big leagues and a chance to contribute.
Throwing rookies straight into major league competition can be a bit overwhelming at times. Easing Flores into games a couple times a week can help him slow things down and focus on one at-bat at a time.
After seeing the type of numbers he put up in Triple-A, Flores has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. Being a bench player could help him sharpen the mental side of his game while laying the groundwork toward being a successful big leaguer over the course of his career.
The Mets will find a spot for him if he maximizes his playing time and shows he can hit. It would motivate New York to either trade someone to make room on the field, or trade Flores to a team that can immediately insert him into their everyday lineup—getting a good return in the process.
Player statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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