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Wilmer Flores should get a lot of playing time in 2017

The utility infielder is coming off of his best offensive season in the majors.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Boston Red Sox Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets enter the 2017 season with a whole lot of infield depth. Between Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, David Wright, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores, TJ Rivera, Matt Reynolds, Gavin Cecchini, and maybe even Amed Rosario, the team will likely have enough capable bodies to man each of the four infield positions. That said, most of those players has either suffered a recent major injury or has yet to establish himself in the big leagues. This makes Flores, an established major league utility infielder, a particularly important player for the 2017 Mets.

Flores is coming off of, at-bat for at-bat, his best offensive season in the majors. In 103 games last year, Flores hit .267/.319/.469 (112 wRC+) with 16 home runs, 49 RBIs, and 38 runs scored. It’s an encouraging sign that his rate stats were not only career highs, but have increased in each of his first four big league seasons. Had Flores played as much in 2016 as he did the year before, his counting numbers would likely have followed the same trajectory.

2013 27 101 .211 .248 .295 51
2014 78 274 .251 .286 .378 87
2015 137 510 .263 .295 .408 94
2016 103 335 .267 .319 .469 112

Flores absolutely demolished left-handed pitching last year. In 107 plate appearances against southpaws, he raked to the tune of a .340/.383/.710 line (192 wRC+) with 11 homers, 28 RBIs, and 17 runs scored. His career line against lefties, while not quite that good, is still a robust .268/.321/.509 (125 wRC+). It’s clear that Flores should be playing every day against lefties; the question is where.

Flores’s strength as a defender is his versatility. Last year, Flores got time at all four infield positions, and before that, he played at least 200.0 big league innings and second, third, and short. Flores has experience at each position, but he hasn’t been particularly good at any of them, as he posted negative DRS and UZR totals at second, third, and short both last year and cumulatively throughout his career. He was, however, slightly better than league-average in his 163.1 innings at first. In other words, although he’s not a complete butcher in the field—especially by UZR—Flores will obviously be in the lineup for his offense.

Position Career innings DRS UZR
1B 163.1 2 1.0
2B 576.0 -6 0.2
3B 594.0 -11 -1.3
SS 1313.2 -15 -0.2

The health of Mets’ infield will dictate how the team will use Flores. Assuming that everyone is healthy, Flores could be a logical platoon option at first or second. In addition to being his two best defensive positions, the Mets’ starters at both positions have struggled against lefties throughout their careers: Duda is a career .224/.294/.364 (86 wRC+) hitter against southpaws, while Walker has hit .269/.327/.373 (93 wRC+) against them. Keep in mind, though, that Walker crushed left-handed pitching last year (.330/.391/.610, 168 wRC+), and Duda did the same in 2015 (.285/.333/.545, 143 wRC+). This makes it hard to pencil Flores into a strict platoon role with either player, at least this early in the year.

On the left side of the infield, Wright, Cabrera, and Reyes have all hit lefties well throughout their careers. However, given their recent injury histories, it might make sense to occasionally have Flores spell them, even against lefties. Potential health issues across the diamond make it very likely that Flores will have to fill in somewhere, at some point, against righties as well.

In short, Flores should get a lot of playing time this year. It’s hard to say now exactly when and where that will be, but he’s due for plenty of opportunities in a utility role. Given the trajectory that his career has taken so far—especially as an offensive player—Flores will be an interesting player to watch in 2017.