Wilmer Flores is still a prospect and still only 22 years old, despite having been in the Mets system for what feels like ages. Many folks think he'll hit well at the major league level, so why wasn't he playing more when he was with the team?
Part of it is, of course, defense. Before this season, Flores hadn't played shortstop since 2011 as a 19-year-old. After that, the organization decided—in the same offseason that they let Jose Reyes leave via free agency—that Flores's future was not at the position. Clearly they believed very strongly Flores wouldn't be able to play the position at the major league level, and they made the choice to move him elsewhere.
Flores wasn't moved to make room for any other player, either; the next Jose Reyes was not waiting for a chance to play. In 2012, Wilfredo Tovar, T.J. Rivera, and Daniel Muno got most of the time in St. Lucie, and Wilfredo Tovar, Sean Kazmar, and Josh Rodriguez got most of the time in Binghamton.
So the plan to try Flores at short in 2014 was clearly more about what the other guys couldn't do than it was about what Flores could do. The Mets needed offense and Flores looked like he might be able to provide it, but he had no position to play. He's looked okay when he's played, but a couple of handfuls of games are not enough to suddenly feel comfortable enough to put him out there every day and not worry about it. Easing him into it is a prudent choice that allows him to grow more comfortable.
Probably more important to the reason Flores wasn't playing more, and one of the major reasons he was demoted, is that the Mets have struggled to score runs. When Flores was in the lineup, he didn't help. He's only slugged just .300 with a .253 on-base percentage in the big leagues this year. His 56 wRC+ puts him right below Anthony Recker and Juan Centeno among the team's hitters this year. And that sort of hitting won't earn anyone playing time.
The Mets are trying to win games. They are not waiting for some magical time when all the stars align and the team on paper looks better than the rest of the division and even the tabloids think they'll win. They are not treating the Flushing team as a minor league development level above Triple-A. That means putting players on the field that give them the best chance to win. Ruben Tejada has been a much better player than Flores, but given the way the Mets have handled and talked about Tejada over the past year, it's pretty clear they don't consider him a likely part of the future. The Mets want Wilmer Flores to succeed—they want him to deserve the playing time—but he has to start showing it. He didn't show much while he was in the majors, so the Mets decided the best course of action was to get him regular playing time in Las Vegas.
It's one thing to believe in the potential of a prospect's bat, but it's quite another for it to actually manifest. Baseball is a tough game, and it's not always fair. If Flores wants to play more, he'll need to hit more. You could argue that Flores should have played in more than the roughly one-in-three games he played in, but the counter-argument is that he hadn't drawn a walk in 35 plate appearances in June. Even though the Mets didn't have a happy solution for another shortstop on the roster, they sent Flores back down to Las Vegas to get some regular work in both in the field and at the plate. This is a similar philosophy exhibited when they sent Travis d'Arnaud down and rolled with the light-hitting Anthony Recker and Taylor Teagarden. Hopefully Flores handles Triple-A pitching as well as d'Arnaud did.
Just as Wilmer Flores is trying to become a solid major league player, the 2014 Mets are trying to become a solid major league team. Flores is getting just enough opportunities to try to earn a major league spot as the Mets are trying to get just enough wins to prove they belong. It's a fine balance of playing the guys that keep you winning and giving chances to the guys that might just get you farther than that in the future.