With spring training on the horizon and no major acquisitions in sight, it is all but certain that Wilmer Flores will be the Mets' Opening Day shortstop in 2015. Fans, scouts, and sportswriters have all raised questions about Flores's ability to play the position at the major-league level. However, dissatisfied with the free agent and trade markets for shortstops, the front office has turned to Flores seemingly as a last resort.
While Flores is a good short-term project, the long-term answer to the organization’s most pressing issue may be hiding under their own roof: after a breakout 2014 campaign, shortstop prospect Matt Reynolds has emerged as a viable candidate for the big-league roster.
Matt Reynolds (not to be confused with the Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher of the same name) was a star athlete for Bishop Kelley High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Excelling on both the baseball diamond and the basketball court, Reynolds received interest from Division I schools Iowa State, Furman, and Butler, to play college basketball. Ultimately, Reynolds opted to stick with baseball and accepted a scholarship to play for the University of Arkansas. As a Razorback, he played third base and hit .275/.382/.413 with 11 home runs and 72 RBI over three seasons. Reynolds broke out in his junior season, batting .323 with seven home runs and 45 RBI, which caught the eyes of major-league scouts.
The Mets selected Reynolds in the second round of the 2012 MLB draft and converted to a shortstop. The organization recognized its lack of depth at short and the value of Reynolds's bat, and felt that he could be a hit-first shortstop with an adequate glove. To the surprise of many, the exact opposite occurred.
Reynolds performed admirably in the field early on in his minor-league career. However, in his first two years in the organization, Reynolds’s bat had yet to come alive. Once a crafty hitter who could drive the ball to all fields, Reynolds found himself consistently pulling the ball and striking out at a high rate. After he hit just .234 over his first two seasons of professional ball, not many were optimistic that Matt Reynolds could actually factor into the Mets’ future plans.
After the 2013 season, Reynolds followed his agent's advice and began working with hitting instructor and part-time Mets scout Rick Strickland. Strickland was able to correct the mechanical errors in Reynolds's swing, and helped him regain the line-drive stroke that had brought him success in the past. The results of the turnaround were immediate, as Reynolds tore up the Eastern League to the tune of a .355/.430/.422 batting line in 58 games with the the Double-A Binghamton Mets. The organization quickly took notice of Reynolds’s success and promoted him to Las Vegas. The shortstop remained hot in Vegas and earned the praise of 51s manager Wally Backman. Backman applauded Reynolds’s work ethic and referred to him as a "grinder," the kind of player Backman himself was known as during his professional career.
Despite his impressive performance—.333/.385/.479 in his 68 games—in Triple-A, Reynolds didn't get a September call-up in 2014. Given that the Pacific Coast League is known to be hitter-friendly and can skew players' offensive numbers, the Mets sent Reynolds to the Arizona Fall League to give him another look. Reynolds hit just .234/.326/.442 in 21 games in Arizona, but did showcase his defensive abilities, making believers out of many scouts.
The future is bright for the young shortstop, who is currently at the University of Arkansas preparing for the upcoming season in Triple-A. Ranked as the 19th-best prospect in the Mets' organization, Reynolds will enter spring training as a dark horse candidate to join the major league roster. Flores, despite the concerns about his quickness and range, will go in as the favorite to start at shortstop. Ruben Tejada will likely be his backup, with Reynolds going back to Vegas for more seasoning.
Reynolds is going into his age-24 season. If he continues to dominate at the minor league level, the Mets could be forced to consider a promotion as early as May. While it isn’t likely that he’ll assume the starting shortstop role in the very near future, Reynolds brings a tremendous amount of value as a utility infielder: Reynolds has the tools to play second, third, and short, and can hopefully be a solid situational hitter off the bench. Should Flores prove not be a viable major-league shortstop, Reynolds should at least get the opportunity to show what he can do.