Wilmer Flores: Criminally underrated

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Once compared to Miguel Cabrera, Wilmer Flores has fallen off the radar among prospect watchers, despite hitting .300/.349/.479 in A+ and AA as a 20-year-old.

Sandy Alderson's tenure as Mets general manager has had its ups and downs, but if there's one thing that would be hard to fault him for, it's the organization's management of its minor league system. Inheriting a devastated farm system, Alderson and company have turned it around. There's more work to be done, but the system is no longer one of the worst in baseball.

The Mets have a handful of players who appear on several well-regarded top prospect lists: Zack Wheeler, Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and Michael Fulmer. But don't the Mets have some other guy that scouts seemed to like?

Oh, that's right. Wilmer Flores.

The 21-year-old infielder began last season with High-A St. Lucie and was promoted to Double-A Binghamton after 64 games. He had hit a robust .289/.336/.463 with 10 home runs in St. Lucie, and the organization decided he was up for the challenge of Double-A. Flores responded by hitting .311/.361/.494 with 8 home runs in 64 games in Binghamton.

In total, Flores hit .300/.349/.479 with 18 home runs last year, which rightly raised some eyebrows. A combination of prospect fatigue and his own relatively poor seasons in 2009 (.264/.305/.332) and 2011 (.269/.309/.380) had hurt his stock somewhat. Wilmer had gone from the next Miguel Cabrera to a phantom.

Despite hitting .300/.349/.479 as a 20-year-old, Flores gets little respect, evidenced by his omission on the above top prospect lists (A note: John Sickels extended his Top 100 Prospects list to a Top 150 Prospects list. In it, Wilmer Flores' name did indeed appear, and he was ranked 118).

His biggest flaw, undoubtedly, is his defense. He is certainly not fleet of foot, and at 6-3, 190 pounds, and still filling out, this big kid is very likely to get bigger. That will certainly impact aspects of his defense in a negative way: He'll be slower and less agile.

When Flores gets to the ball, he has shown soft hands and a strong arm, but not being able to get to the ball is very problematic for a prospect that, for the most part, has been a shortstop. It is all but certain that he will be moved from the position permanently as a result. In 2012, he did not appear in any games as a shortstop. Between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, he played 87 games as a third baseman, 27 games as a second baseman, and 7 games as a first baseman. He made a handful of appearances at second base in spring training.

Do the defensive concerns up the middle complete negate his offensive prowess and justify his being completely absent on these top prospect listings? Let's look at all of the middle infielders (shortstop + second base) who were included on all of the lists:

Player Age Team Highest Level of Play
Javier Baez 22 Chicago Cubs High-A
Xander Bogaerts 20 Boston Red Sox AA
Carlos Correa 18 Houston Astros Rookie
Delino DeShields Jr. 20 Houston Astros High-A
Nick Franklin 22 Seattle Mariners AAA
Jedd Gyorko 24 San Diego Padres AAA
Billy Hamilton 22 Cincinatti Reds AA
Alen Hanson 20 Pittsburgh Pirates A
Jose Iglesias 23 Boston Red Sox MLB
Hak-Ju Lee 22 Tampa Bay Rays AA
Francisco Lindor 19 Cleveland Indians A
Brad Miller 23 Seattle Mariners AA
Chris Owings 21 Arizona Diamondbacks AA
Dorssys Paulino 18 Cleveland Indians Short-A
Jurickson Profar 20 Texas Rangers MLB
Eddie Rosario 21 Minnesota Twins A
Addison Russell 19 Oakland Athletics A
Carlos Sanchez 20 Chicago White Sox AAA
Luis Sardinas 19 Texas Rangers A
Jonathan Schoop 21 Baltimore Orioles AA
Corey Seager 18 Los Angeles Dodgers Rookie
Trevor Story 20 Colorado Rockies A
Kolten Wong 22 St. Louis Cardinals AA

Now, let's remove all of the middle infielders who are known for their average to above average defense. That is, all of the guys who have glove that will stick down the middle on a major league club.

It's hard to compare players with a record of experience and players who are all projections based on tools, so let's ignore Paulino (18) and Russell (19), and look only at Baez (22), Gyorko (24) and Rosario (21).

Javier Baez

Year Level Games AVG OBP SLG HR SB/SC
2012 A 57 .333 .383 .596 16 20/23
2012 A+ 23 .188 .244 .400 4 4/6
Career Rk to A+ 85 .293 .342 .534 16 26/31

Jedd Gyorko

Year Level Games AVG OBP SLG HR SB/SC
2010 A- 26 .330 .383 .528 5 1/2
2010 A 42 .284 .366 .389 2 1/1
2011 A+ 81 .365 .429 .638 18 11/14
2011 AA 59 .288 .358 .428 7 1/1
2012 AA 34 .262 .356 .431 6 1/2
2012 AAA 93 .328 .380 .588 24 4/7
Career A- to AAA 334 .319 .385 .529 62 19/27

Eddie Rosario

Year Level Games AVG OBP SLG HR SB/SC
2010 Rookie 51 .294 .343 .438 5 22/27
2011 Rookie 67 .337 .397 .670 21 17/23
2012 A 95 .296 .345 .490 12 11/22
Career Rk to A 218 .310 .362 .538 39 50/72

Javier Baez and Eddie Rosario, both about the same age as Flores, are in the lower ends of the minor leagues. Though they've put up overall better offensive numbers, they've been doing it against less polished pitchers. That does not discount their upside, but it shows how much further in his development Flores is.

Gyorko is a bit of a more interesting comparison. He, like Wilmer, has shown some struggles after being promoted, and he's played more games against tougher competition. After his promotoin to Single-A Fort Wayne as a 21-year-old, he struggled. The time he spent in Double-A San Antonio, while not bad, wasn't exactly eye popping. In fact, if you remove his body of work from the Pacific Coast League — with its offense-boosting factors — Gyorko's total home run numbers, 62, shrink to 38, which is roughly a 40 percent decrease.

As a middle infielder, at best, Wilmer Flores might be passable. The team transitioned Daniel Murphy into a second baseman as a means to get his bat into the lineup, and stuck with him as the teams starter, despite his below-average defense. In a more defensive optimal situation, Flores plays at third base, where he has exhibited a decent amount of defensive know how in his footwork and quick reaction times.

He is blocked at the hot corner by current incumbent and hopeful Met for life, David Wright. That shouldn't be a mark against him. After all, for the time being, Jurickson Profar is being blocked at shortstop by Elvis Andrus and at second by Ian Kinsler. Manny Machado was blocked at shortstop by J.J. Hardy. Javier Baez is blocked by Starlin Castro.

None of this is to say that Javier Baez, Eddie Rosario, Jedd Gyorko, or any other prospects mentioned don't deserve to be where they are. Based on their numbers, and everything discussed here, it seems like Wilmer Flores is a forgotten man, and is unfairly penalized for things out of his control. He arguably stands up to some of the players mentioned, and he absolutely stands up to other players found on most Top 100 lists.

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