So far, the New York Mets‘ experiment with playing Wilmer Flores at shortstop has gone about as well as Seth Brundle’s experiment with teleportation. The 22 year-old has made six errors in only 91 chances at triple-A Las Vegas this April. Scouts say he can make routine plays, and his range is adequate, but his instincts aren’t sharp. While it’s still early, it might be time to move Flores back to a more natural position.
The Mets are extremely thin on middle infielders at the major league and high minor league levels. They are particularly barren at shortstop. The incumbent shortstop, Ruben Tejada, is hitting .200/.316/.215 through the season’s first month. He’s drawn five intentional walks, which has artificially inflated his on-base percentage.
Pitchers aren’t walking Tejada because of the Barry Bonds-like fear he instills into their hearts. It’s because he bats eighth in front of a pitching staff that has yet to record a hit this year. He’s looked better in the field than he did last year, but he’s still adequate at best.
The closest shortstop prospect is probably Matt Reynolds at double-A Binghamton, and he was originally drafted as a third baseman. Daniel Muno has split time between SS and 2B, and his defense is in question. Wilfredo Tovar is probably the best defensive shortstop in the high minors, but he doesn’t project to hit much in the major leagues.
Hence the experiment to move Flores to shortstop, a position he played until 2011. At the time, team evaluators felt his range would be limited as he got bigger, so he became a second baseman. He’s only 22 years old now, and stands 6-foot-3 with a weight of 205 pounds. He has a projectable body, meaning he’ll probably fill out and get stronger.
Ultimately, he’ll have a body type more suited for a corner infield position. So while he may be able to fake it at shortstop for now, his future lies somewhere else on the diamond.
In addition, Flores has gotten off to a difficult start at the plate, hitting .250/.319/.333. Wilmer’s been pretty consistent at the dish throughout his seven years in the minors, posting a career .288/.331/.427 slash line with 163 doubles and 65 home runs. Could all the work Wilmer is putting into becoming a shortstop (again) affect him negatively in the batter’s box?
Unless you’re in the clubhouse in Vegas every day, it’s impossible to know, but it’s happened to players before. In fairness, he has hit better over the past couple of weeks.
Given the lack of options they have at the major league level, and their lack of willingness to sign free agent Stephen Drew or trade for a major league-ready prospect like Nick Franklin or Didi Gregorius (none of which are ideal moves, by the way), it’s understandable that the Mets would be tempted to continue to play Flores at short.
Unless he shows some improvement in the field soon, the detriments of keeping him there may soon outweigh the benefits — for both the Mets and Flores.