The New York Mets promoted prospect Wilmer Flores to the major leagues yesterday. It seems like he's been around since Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman were pitching in Shea Stadium, but he's actually still quite young; he just turned 22 yesterday. He's had a good year in Triple-A, and with the Mets out of the race and with open spots in the infield, it's time to see what he can do.
Flores was signed by the Mets out of Venezuela back in 2007, earning a robust $750,000 bonus and considered one of the top hitters on the international market that year. At the time, the Mets under former GM Omar Minaya adhered to an aggressively Darwinian promotion philosophy for international prospects. Accordingly, they sent Flores to the Appalachian League at age 16 in 2008. He performed quite well, hitting .310/.352/.490. There were questions about his defense at shortstop, but the bat looked extremely promising.
The Mets moved him up to Savannah in the South Atlantic League for 2009; he was only 17, the youngest player in the league, and it showed, resulting in a .264/.305/.332 line. He made contact (just 72 strikeouts in 488 at-bats) but was rather impatient (only 22 walks) and couldn't drive the ball for power effectively.
He returned to Savannah to open 2010 and was more effective, hitting .278/.342/.433 in 66 games. This earned him a promotion to High-A St. Lucie in the second half, where he hit .300/.324/.415 in 67 contests. He was still impatient with just nine walks, but again he kept his strikeouts reasonable, and overall performed very credibly for a player his age in High-A.
The Mets under new GM Sandy Alderson slowed down the fast pace of prospect promotion in 2011, holding Flores to a full season at St. Lucie. His production stagnated so he didn't merit a move upward in any event, hitting .269/.309/.380, though he set a then-career best mark at nine homers.
The power began to surge last year: he hit .289/.336/.463 with 10 homers in 64 games for St. Lucie, followed by a .311/.361/.494 mark with eight more homers in 66 games for Double-A Binghamton. This year, playing for Triple-A Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League, Flores has hit .321/.357/.531 with 15 homers, 36 doubles, 25 walks, 63 strikeouts in 424 at-bats.
Vegas is a great place to hit and it does boost his numbers: he's hit .348/.369/.586 at home, vs. .294/.345/.477 on the road, though even the road line is good for a 21-year-old in Triple-A. His wRC+ of 128 this year fits in his career profile, likewise his wOBA+ of 109. Vegas helps, but his overall performance is still solid and not out of context.
Flores is a 6-3, 190 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born August 6, 1991. He's a line drive hitter with good bat speed who can pull the ball for power, though occasionally he'll put a charge into an opposite field drive as well (CLICK HERE for spray charts). His home run production has gradually increased with age, and he's always kept his strikeouts at a reasonable level. Although his eye has improved, he is still aggressive and not likely to draw a lot of walks, making his OBP very dependent on his batting average. His running speed is below average and he is no threat to steal. He is also prone to hitting into double plays when he doesn't loft the ball.
Flores no longer has the mobility for shortstop and the Mets have experimented with him at several positions, primarily third base last year and mostly second this season. He has a good arm and doesn't make huge numbers of errors, but his lack of quickness and range will always keep him from being a premium defender. He may wind up as a first baseman eventually, which would increase the pressure on his bat.
In a perfect world, Flores will develop into a .300 hitter with at least moderate power and an adequate glove at second or third base. The world isn't perfect, of course, and it's possible he could be just a .260-.270 hitter with a below average OBP and not enough power to force his way into a permanent spot, especially if he has to move to first base.
That said, I do think Flores made real progress over the last two seasons, he is still young enough to grow further, and it makes sense to let him play. The Pacific Coast League doesn't have much left to teach him.