It only seems as if the Mets’ Wilmer Flores has been around forever. Signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2007, Flores was routinely mentioned as one of the club’s top prospects ever since his professional debut as a 16-year-old shortstop in 2008. Baseball America ranked him among their Top–100 prospects from 2009–2011, rating him as high as #47 in 2009. In that respect, Flores has not disappointed, producing a .292 career batting average plus solid power and run production numbers despite being among the youngest players at each of his minor league stops.
Now, on the cusp of his 23rd birthday, Flores finds himself at the center of a brewing maelstrom among the Mets’ fan base. They wonder why this player, who they have heard so much about for the last seven seasons, cannot get regular playing time for a team that is trying to find the right components for its next winner.
To be fair, many scouts and baseball observers are adamant that Flores does not have the skills to be an everyday shortstop at the major league level. The Mets largely agreed, moving him to third base after his 2011 campaign at High-A St. Lucie before shifting him to second base and first base. However, Ruben Tejada’s continuing struggles with the Mets have led Flores back to his original position, and many fans are clamoring for his name in the lineup every day.
There is virtually nothing Flores has left to prove in the minor leagues. In exactly 162 games played at the Triple-A level—albeit in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with Las Vegas—Flores has hit .321/.360/.543 with 47 doubles, 28 home runs, and 143 RBI to go along with a .903 OPS. While no one expects anything close to that in the major leagues, many do wonder why Tejada continues to man the shortstop position just about every day despite hitting .219/.316/.274 with a .590 OPS and playing only marginal defense the last two seasons, compiling UZRs of just 0.2 in 2013 and 2014. Tejada has also drawn the wrath of both manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson for his conditioning and approach.
So why not start Flores at least five times per week? It’s hardly fair to judge his pedestrian major league numbers of .218/.249/.298 over all of 57 games spread over two seasons. As for his defense, in an admittedly small sample size of 20 starts at shortstop this year, Flores has compiled a strong UZR of 3.2. Is that type of defense sustainable? More than likely not, but for a club that seems ready to take the next step toward contention, don’t they owe it to themselves to at least see what Flores can do with consistent playing time?
The Mets know what they have in Tejada: A singles hitter with little else to offer on offense who won’t embarrass himself in the field. What they don’t know and seem unwilling to find out is what they have in Flores. Maybe he commits errors at a prolific rate, stumbles over his own feet, and embarrasses himself and the team. Or maybe the Mets actually have a player in the mold of a Jhonny Peralta: Someone who can swat 10–15 home runs, amass 60–70 RBI, and defy the experts by playing acceptable defense at shortstop over a full season.
Either way, Flores deserves the opportunity to sink or swim as a regular player. That he hasn’t yet reflects poorly on the Mets, who certainly have much more to gain by seeing what they have in Flores than what they already know they have in Tejada.