Can Wilmer Flores Hack it at First Base?


Wilmer Flores, who made his debut for the Mets last night on his 22nd birthday, has been the topic of much debate.  A few days ago, the debate revolved around why the Mets had passed him over for promotion.  Starting now, it should center around where Flores’ potential long-term future lies with the club.

Aug 6, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets third baseman Wilmer Flores (4) before the game against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

This is a simple process of elimination exercise.  The Mets aren’t giving Flores a mitt and sticking him behind the plate, and while there are still fans who ask about Flores potentially being moved to the outfield, there’s a zero percent chance of that happening.  According to nearly every scout who’s watched Flores, his speed is ranked 20/80, the lowest on the scouting scale.

That leaves us with the infield.  Flores moved from shortstop to third base over a year ago due to his large build and a lack of range.  He isn’t going back there.  Second base is where he’s played primarily this year, but according to most who follow the Mets minors exhaustively, Flores doesn’t have a shot to stick at second in the majors.  While Flores is filling in at third base right now for the injured David Wright, that’s obviously not where his long-term future with the Mets lies.  That leaves us with first base.

Flores has soft hands and a decent enough throwing arm, so he would likely be able to adapt and handle first base as far as the defensive aspect is concerned.  However, most scouts are of the belief that Flores doesn’t hit for enough power to project as an adequate first baseman.

This year in AAA Las Vegas for the 51’s, Flores had a triple slash of .321/.357/.531, with 15 homers, 36 doubles, and 86 RBI’s.  It should be noted that the Pacific Coast League (and the 51’s home park in particular) are incredibly hitter friendly.  That doesn’t mean that Flores’ production should be ignored (his BABIP was .342 in the PCL compared to .326 last year), but it was certainly inflated a bit by the PCL.

Last year between High-A and AA, Flores combined to hit 18 homers and drive in 75 runs.  In 2011 in Low-A, he hit 9 homers and drove in 80.

Flores has a knack for making solid contact, and is expected to hit for average in the majors.  If you look at his minor league numbers, you’ll notice that his power is still developing.  Having just turned 22, he’s yet to reach his prime.  However, at the moment, most view him as a potential 15 to 20 homer player in the big leagues.  Is that enough power for first base?

From 1997 to 1999, the first baseman for the Mets was John Olerud.  In his three seasons with the Mets (’97, 98, and ’99), Olerud hit 22, 22, and 19 home runs respectively.  Olerud was (like Flores) incredibly slow, and his lack of prototypical first base power was made up for in 1998 because the Mets had a prolific hitting catcher (Mike Piazza).  In 1999, Robin Ventura and Edgardo Alfonzo teamed with Piazza to give the Mets even more pop around Olerud in the lineup.

If Flores turns into what many expect him to be – someone who hits for average, hits lots of doubles, and cracks between 15 and 20 homers per year, he can certainly be a fit for the Mets at first base.  However, the team would need power from unlikely sources in order to pick up the home run slack.

One of those sources should be Travis d’Arnaud, the Mets’ catching prospect who is seen as a legitimate offensive piece (both average and power wise).  David Wright is another power source.  Ideally, the Mets would need to add one more legit home run bat (likely an outfielder via trade or through free agency) in order for Flores to be “the answer” at first base.

Complicating things further, is the presence of Ike Davis.  He’s heated up recently, but Davis’ lack of power has been glaring.  Between now and the end of the season, the Mets will have to decide whether to offer Davis arbitration or non-tender him.  If they offer him arbitration, Flores’ future will likely be with another club.  If the Mets non-tender Davis, there will be a hole at first base.  In the event that happens, there’s a chance that Flores will be able to fill it.

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