For the last few months of the season and since its conclusion, there’s been tons of talk about who should man first base for the Mets in 2014. Most feel that one of Ike Davis or Lucas Duda will be traded, leaving the other as the left handed side of a platoon. The right handed part of a platoon in that scenario could be Josh Satin.
Aug 8, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets third baseman Wilmer Flores (4) warms up on the field before the start of a game against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
As far as second base is concerned, it’s highly likely that Daniel Murphy will be retained and remain there. In the event the Mets trade Murphy in a deal to fill a separate hole on the roster, it’s possible that Eric Young, Jr. would slide from the outfield to second base (I don’t like that idea, and you probably don’t like it either).
A player who has been flying largely under the radar, but who could potentially be a fit at either first base or second base, is Wilmer Flores.
Toward the end of the season, manager Terry Collins noted that if Flores wasn’t a starter or part of a platoon in 2014, he would likely open the year with AAA Las Vegas. The question surrounding Flores is where he’ll play, and he seems keenly aware of that. With David Wright healthy, third base is obviously taken. Flores has neither the range nor the arm for shortstop. That leaves him as either an offensive minded second baseman or a first baseman.
With that in mind, I chatted with Flores in the dugout before Sunday’s season finale against Milwaukee, and asked him what the biggest difference was between playing in AAA Las Vegas and with the Mets. With a wide grin on his face, Flores noted that the quality of the infield at Citi Field is what jumped out at him – an answer that alluded to his defensive capability, not his offensive potential.
Las Vegas is notoriously difficult on infielders for a host of reasons. First of all, true hops are few and far between. Worse than that, though, is the speed of the infield. Due to the dry air, the field is incredibly hard and fast, making it hard for infielders to track grounders that would be routine in the majors.
When it came to the offensive side of things, Flores predicted he could hit 20 home runs in the majors if he was given a chance over 162 games. He might be aiming a tad high, but it’s important to remember that he’s still just 22 years old. It seems like he’s been in the system forever because the Mets signed him when he was 16, but he’s still developing.
Even though there are Mets fans who won’t give up the dream of Flores playing shortstop (it isn’t happening), I resisted asking Flores about short. Instead, I asked him how he felt during his limited exposure at first base while with AAA earlier this season. He noted that he was “comfortable” while playing first base, and that he would play “anywhere the Mets asked.” Instead of forgetting about him, the Mets should be listening.
The 22 year old Flores, who made his major league debut in August after David Wright strained his hamstring, was hampered by injury down the stretch. He started off strong, but Flores twisted his ankle about a week after his big league debut and was never the same. He was rested frequently, and his swing was negatively impacted when he did play.
In 95 at bats this season with the Mets, Flores hit .211 with a .248 OBP. He hit 1 home run, 5 doubles, and drove in 13. In addition to his 2013 major league results being a tiny sample size, it’s clear that his ankle injury drove his numbers down.
What the Mets shouldn’t be worried about, though, is Flores’ offensive potential. He makes plenty of contact – his highest strikeout percentage in the minors since 2008 is 13.8. Flores also hit for average in the minors (.311 in 2012 and .321 in 2013), hit lots of doubles, and flashed developing power – he hit 18 homers in 132 games in 2012, and hit 15 in 107 games this season for AAA Las Vegas.
While the Mets debate the merits of Davis and Duda, and ponder whether or not to trade Murphy and replace him with Young, they should consider that their answer at one of those positions may be right under their nose in the form of Wilmer Flores.