In case you haven't noticed, Wilmer Flores is faring extremely well in his first exposure to Double-A. Through 59 games the just-turned 21-year-old Venezuelan is batting .321/.371/.500 with 7 home runs and 19 walks versus just 26 strikeouts — that's a very strong 7.7 BB% and a stellar 10.6 K%. And he's the fifth-youngest position player in the Eastern League.
That's a very impressive line. For reference, consider the line of recently promoted Orioles uber-prospect Manny Machado, who batted .266/.352/.438 through 108 games in his age 20 season in the Eastern League. Now that's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison as Machado is a gifted infield defender, and that's where our discussion on Flores begins.
In the past, we pushed off questions about Flores's defense by saying, "First he has to develop more power." And he has. We then said, "He still has to hit at the higher levels." And now he is. Flores's bat could conceivably be ready for the show by this time next year. And if it is, where will he play? Where can he play? He's bounced all over the infield so far this season with Binghamton:
He's made four errors; two at third and one each at second and first. Earlier in the year he played 61 of his 64 games with High-A St. Lucie at third with eight errors and the rest at second with no errors.
In his most recent Monday Morning Ten Pack column, Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein discussed the prospects of Wilmer's defense:
"Finally off of shortstop, Flores has split time between second base, where he just doesn't have the athleticism to play, and third base, where he's below average, but acceptable, yet just doesn't have the power to profile. He's certainly better, and certainly still very young, but he's turned into a bit of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole."
I agree with Goldstein that Flores isn't an ideal fit anyplace. But not necessarily on the rest.
It's clear that Wilmer won't win any Gold Gloves, but with that in mind I do think he possesses the kind of athleticism to play a similar second base to Daniel Murphy. That is, poor range, probably positioning himself very deep to cut down angles, etc. Again, it's a bad second base but considering his offensive profile it's at least a trade-off worth discussing.
Next is the idea of third base. Again, I agree with Goldstein's assessment that he'd be below average. The other day I used the phrase "big build begets slow feet" with Wilmer, meaning more poor range. However, what he does possess is soft hands and a good arm, both more integral for a serviceable third baseman. But with less range requirements comes the expectation of more pop.
Frankly, I'm surprised Goldstein thinks Flores doesn't have the power to profile at third. The current MLB average for all third basemen with at least 300 plate appearances is 16 home runs with a .457 SLG and a .185 ISO. In 2012 Flores has 17 home runs with a .500 SLG and a .179 ISO -- albeit it in the minors but again, as one of the youngest players around. Beyond that, his body/swing shows no lack of power projection, instead likely offering more power as he fills out. I personally see very little reason why Flores couldn't handle the position's offensive implications.
That projection likely falls short, however, if you jump to the other infield corner. Despite the fact that he's played a number of games there this season, Wilmer's current power profile doesn't point to an everyday Major League first baseman. As I stated the other day, while he’s showed a lot of development in the way of power this season, it’s a big leap to say that he’ll have the kind of pop to profile comfortably at first offensively — the way, say, someone with more natural power like Aderlin Rodriguez could.
If you're thinking outfield, re-read the thing about slow feet.
Ultimately, in my view Flores profiles best — offensively and defensively — at third base. Whether or not the opening will be there for him is another question entirely.