"Is there any precedent for someone as young as Wilmer Flores to have this kind of season in AAA and NOT become a good major league hitter? I.e., can we start making some judgments about his floor as a hitter, given his advanced hit tool, emerging power, middling plate discipline, etc.?"
With Flores' recent major league debut I felt this was a timely one to hit on. And it's a genuinely good question too -- something I'd actually been wondering about for a while myself.
That's because -- in case you hadn't heard -- Flores was having a really big year in Las Vegas prior to his promotion. And to make that fact even sweeter, at 21 years old he was also one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League. Young and productive; a nice little combo to be sure (and perhaps the haunting, yet melodic theme song for the Great Gatsby 2?).
Now to answer this question, let's first look at some of Flores' contemporaries before we delve into the past. Well, the first problem we run into is that if we include only 21-year-olds -- as I would have wanted to -- the sample is too small to evaluate. Aside from Flores, there were only three other players, age-21 or lower, playing in Triple-A baseball this season. So to make this a little more interesting let's push the boundary out to 22 (click image to embiggen):
*Statistics via Minor League Central
The first thing we notice about this 11-player sampling is that there are quite a few names. Aside from Flores, the list is dotted exclusively with other top prospects including the Rays former no. one prospect Wil Myers, Toronto's recently graduated and almost-Dickey trade bait Anthony Gose, the well-named Nick Castellanos (Detroit's no. 1 prospect as ranked by John Sickels), Chris Owings (ARI, #9), Futures Game MVP Matt Davidson (ARI, #4), Kolten Wong (STL, #6), Carlos (aka Yolmer) Sanchez (CWS, #2), Jonathan Villar (HOU, #11), and Billy Hamilton (CIN, #1).
The next thing to notice is that when we sort this sample by wOBA Flores makes out pretty nicely. In fact, the only player, 22 or younger, who clearly outdid him offensively at the Triple-A level this season was baseball's newest young stud, Wil Myers. Beyond Myers, Flores posted the best season of any young hitter on this list.
Now obviously there's the qualifier of his home ballpark; however, even when he was on the road in the PCL -- which despite what you've heard doesn't contain exclusively launchpads -- he posted a .294/.345/.477 line that still surpasses most others on this list. Not only is he the fourth-youngest player on the list, he's also in the minority of guys with no experience experience at this level coming into the season.
What does that tell us? To say nothing about his defensive game, Flores can really hit. And obviously one does have to consider that not insignificant qualifier about his poor defensive value -- it clearly hurts his overall value proposition, as compared to some of the other guys on this list who also boast strong gloves. However, for now let's just appreciate what a very good bat the young Venezuelan possesses.
Now there's the question at-hand, about Flores' chances as gauged by those that have raked before him. Here is a list of all of the 21-year-olds to post an .887 OPS or higher -- the baseline that Flores established this year -- in the Pacific Coast League since 2000 (click image to embiggen):
*Statistics via Baseball-Reference; sorted chronologically
As we can see -- like the list of prospects above -- there are a lot of notable names here. Specifically, most of the players who have done what Flores just did went on to become productive major leaguers. In fact, more than a few are impact players with multiple All Star appearances between them. Once again, there's the issue of defense and the fact that many of these players bring as much value as they do because of their strong defensive play. However, for guys like Billy Butler that isn't necessarily the case.
Further, if we perform the same exercise as before, pushing out our threshold to include 22-year-olds, we see more of the same:
Does this mean that Flores is a sure-fire star-level player at the major league level? Of course not. There are more than a couple duds on these lists. Felix Pie never lived up to the hype. Travis Snider certainly hasn't blown up (yet). Also, who is Josh Kroeger? There's no guarantee Flores won't be another in that sub-set. There's also the decided issue of his defense and the question not of if, but of how much it will negate his offensive prowess.
However, this much is certain: Wilmer Flores possesses a very advanced bat -- one that will more than likely play at an average level in the majors with the potential for much more. Poor defense or not, this description is more than we've been able to say for a Mets prospect in quite a while so some excitement is most certainly in order.