Wilmer Flores got a pretty good early birthday present last night when the Mets announced that he would join the team for their series against Colorado this week. Flores was in the midst of a fine season in Las Vegas, playing mostly second base and hitting .321/.357/.531 with 15 home runs and 36 doubles in 107 Pacific Coast League games. Of course in baseball, like in marketing campaigns, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Out of the friendly confines of Cashman Field and against the best pitchers in the sport, what can we expect from the now 22-year-old infielder?
What he does well right now
Put bat to ball
This may seem a bit simplistic, but the hit tool is a carrying tool, and it's Flores's best. It's an easy and aesthetically-pleasing swing, and he covers the plate well. His approach is better than his walk rate might suggest, but he is very aggressive on pitches in the zone. It's tough to get him to chase, but he does have a tendency to swing at 'pitcher's pitches.' He will need to make adjustments to the higher quality breaking stuff he'll encounter, but Flores should be able to put bat to ball as soon as he dons the home whites (or blues). Going forward, he projects as a .270-.280 hitter at the major league level.
Knock extra-base hits
In 463 plate appearances this year, Flores has notched 55 extra-base hits. That is a pretty sexy ratio. The PCL in general, and Vegas specifically, is a nice place to be a hitter, but Flores also smacked 50 extra-base hits last year between St. Lucie and Binghamton. He can straight up sting a baseball, showing both pull and opposite-field power. While I may have questions about his ultimate home run ceiling, Flores should be able to drive balls into outfield gaps right away.
What he doesn't do so well right now
Most baseball stuff not related to swinging a bat
Flores is a bat-only prospect. He's a well-below-average runner who is not going to steal bases or beat out many infield hits, but the bigger issue is the defensive profile. I often joke about all the questions I get on twitter asking if Flores can play second base—thankfully, the outfield ones have dried up—but he has made some strides there this year. He hasn't improved to 'good,' or even 'average,' mind you, but he's probably made it to '2012 Daniel Murphy.' Flores is fine around the bag, and usually handles the balls he gets to. He just doesn't get to many balls.
In the near term Flores will likely be playing third base, which is his best position from a value proposition standpoint. He has a more than sufficient arm for third, and at the hot corner the range issues are mitigated a bit. It's not all wine and roses, though. Flores is not a natural-looking defender, and his actions are stiff and mechanical, but on balance he should be merely below-average at third. However, with any luck the Mets won't need a third baseman much past September 1, and it's easy to see Flores's body "maturing" its way off second base in short order. Internally, I believe the Mets view Flores as a corner player, and I had a Mets scout tell me point blank last year that he saw Flores as a first baseman. Which leads me to...
Hit for enough power to be an above-average first baseman
With the caveat that in-game power is often the last tool to develop, it's hard to see Flores as a 20-home-run guy in the major leagues right now. As I wrote above, he'll hit line drives into the gap, but his swing is not particularly conducive to backspin, and Citi Field is not Cashman Field. Seeing as Flores is unlikely to hit .300 or walk all that much against major league pitching, how much and how quickly he makes gains in his over-the-fence power will be the biggest factor in his ultimate major league role.
Another thing to keep an eye on
So where exactly do the Mets play Flores?
The assumption is that Flores will slot into an everyday third base role while David Wright is on the shelf. The Mets only gave him a week's worth of work there in Vegas, but he played mostly third at St. Lucie and Binghamton in 2012. I am curious to see if they give Flores some major league reps at first or second after Wright comes back. How much he hits will dictate how gung ho the Mets are about using him after September 1, but it might be telling if he gets reps at first or second, even against lefties, as we head into the fall. After all, he's not exactly the third baseman of the future.
What to expect
Flores is going to have to make some adjustments against major league pitching. He likes to swing, and even in Binghamton you could get him out with better breaking stuff. Flores will have to adjust to pitchers that can throw their breaking balls early in counts or behind in counts. That's most major league pitchers, by the way. On the offensive side of things, I expect a better version of Juan Lagares. Both are free swingers, though Flores's swing is more controlled and thus he covers balls in the zone better. He is also much stronger than Lagares, and should immediately hit for more power. I do think major league pitching will be able to exploit Flores's aggressiveness, and he will make less contact (and more bad contact) than he has at Vegas this year. I see something in the range of .260/.300/.400 for the balance of the season.
In the field, expect some rough patches at third base, with Flores' arm covering for the occasional muff and his overall slower actions. You can also probably expect him to look fine in a small sample at second base, causing my twitter @s to once again fill up with people asking if he can hack it there long term.
He still can't play the outfield though.