When Fernando Met Wilmer

Entering the 2009 season, the consensus top two prospects in the Mets system were Fernando Martinez and Wilmer Flores.  There was some disagreement about specific ranking, but they were considered in a class of their own amongst minor leaguers employed by the New York Mets.  Nearly three months later, it looks like there's a good chance that neither one of these two vunderkinds will retain said ranking.  The recent injury to Carlos Beltran may earn Martinez a chance to shed his rookie status, and the aggressive promotion of Flores to the South Atlantic League for his age 17 season has been something of a statistical hiccup for the young star. 

Organizational rankings aside, we're now at a good point in time to run some analysis on Flores using his older counterpart as model of comparison, and maybe even sneak some in on Martinez as well.  Much like Flores, Martinez spent his age 17 season in the South Atlantic League, though Flores had a head start after a successful age 16 season in the Appalachian league.  There are some very interesting similarities and differences in their results, but before we go too far in depth, lets take a look at some of the data:

                                                     South Atlantic League Statistics
    PA    H  
Flores  59 
 62  11   1   2   .273   .316   .357  .084
  32  12   .309
Martinez  45 
  211  64  14   2   5   .333   .389   .505  .172   36  15   .380


Clearly, Fernando was the more successful of the two in during his tour of the South Atlantic League (at least thus far).  In the last four columns of this table lies the real significance though.  The Strikeout and Walk rates are nearly identical. Fernando managed to dunk more hits in, but he wasn't making more contact, and he wasn't walking more either.  What he was doing was hitting for quite a bit more power.  So for the next step, lets take a look a their batted ball profiles to see if we can garner any additional insight:

            South Atlantic League Statistics

  GB%    LD%     FB%   HR/FB  
Flores  44.0% 
  9.5%   46.5%    2.2%
Martinez  56.8%  16.2%    27.0%    12.8%


There's some interesting stuff here.  The first thing that jumps out is Fernando's HR/FB, which for a 17 year old is pretty awesome.  At the same time though, look at how much of a groundball-dominant hitter he was.  Flores has shown only a fraction of the raw power Fernando showed in the Sally League and his struggle to hit line drives helps explain the BABIP separation.  But his swing is also clearly more geared towards loft, as he hits balls in the air at a much higher clip. 

This raises a number of interesting questions:  Could this be a good indication for his future?  Its hardly a major concern that his power is down for such a youngster, so what about if/when it comes?  Can we expect him to continue to put a higher rate of balls in the air?  If so, how does that portend for his Home Run totals down the line?  Lets fill in these stat groupings for the rest of these players careers (minus Fernando's rehab stints) to see of we can attempt a bit of fortune telling (don't forget, Wilmer had about a year's head start on Fernando age-wise):


                                                                          Wilmer Flores Career Statistics
  G     PA 
  H    2B  3B
2008 (3 levels)*
 302  86  13   4   8 .307 .347 .468 .161 37 13   .333 32.5%
17.3% 50.2% 6.8%
2009 (SAL)  59
 247  62  11   1   2 .273
.357 .084 32 12   .309 44.0% 9.5% 46.5% 2.2%



                                                                          Fernando Martinez Career Statistics
 G  PA   H    2B  3B
2006 (3 levels)*
 345  88  18   4  10 .276 .336 .457 .181  61  21   .333 52.2%
14.7% 33.1% 12.3%
2007 (EL)  60
 259  64  11   1   4 .271
.377 .108  51  20   .326 61.5%  9.9% 28.0%  7.8%
2008 (EL)
 385 101  19   4   8 .287 .340 .432 .145  73  27   .343 48.9%
18.1% 33.0%  8.9%
2009 (IL)  44
 186  50  16   2   8 .291
.547 .256  31 11   .316 48.6% 18.3% 33.1% 17.4%


There are some notable correlations and potential correlations here.  First of all, Fernando's tendency to hit the ball on the ground has followed him through his ascent through the farm system.  He's generally had about a 3:2 ratio of grounders to flyballs.  This has masked his typically impressive HR/FB, which has completely exploded this year.  Wilmer has been just the opposite.  Including his time in the Appalachian league, you can basically flip that ratio for him, he hits about 3:2 more flyballs than groundballs.  So even if Wilmer never develops the same level of raw power that Fernando does, if he can/when he does eventually find a bit more, he might be able to yield similar results, simply by virtue of the fact that he has an easier time putting the ball in the air. 

The silver lining of Wilmer's "struggles" this year in the South Atlantic League is that it might convince the Mets not to rush him straight to the Eastern League next year, as they did with Fernando.  Still, even if they keep him in the Florida State League for 2010 I wouldn't expect to see him start hitting for power quite yet, especially in a pitcher friendly environment like that.  In fact, there's a good chance that a perceived lack of power is going to hurt Flores's prospect grades even more in the upcoming years than it has already.  But fret not, this should be completely expected, and even if such a prediction comes true, there's still a great chance he's going to have it explode in the upper levels much the way Fernando's has this year.  A 17 year old lacking power is hardly a major concern, and Fernando's upper-level looking HR/FB in the SAL is more the exception than the rule. Instead, I implore you to keep the faith, this kid still has special written all over him, but its going to take some time to extract said special.

Edit:  For the sake of putting some more tangible projection in this, here's what we might expect if/when Wilmer's HR/FB spikes.  This season, Wilmer's 46.5% FB% is the product of 91 flyballs through his 247 PAs (remember FB% is a percentage of Balls in Play, not PAs).  So we can assume in a 600 PA season that contained a similar contact rate and FB%, that would be approximately 220 flyballs.  If his HR/FB were to spike up to 10%, that'd be 22 HR power.  At 15%, it would be 33 HR power.  Assuming he develops as expected, this seems like a fair range to put on his power ceiling.  But keep in mind, an excersize like this is like trying to use a telescope to observe traffic patterns a few miles down the road.

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