The Mets signed Flores for $750,000 on his 16th birthday in 2007 and made the aggressive decision to bring him stateside shortly thereafter. All he did was respond by pummeling the Appalachian League to the tune of an .842 OPS that checked in 12th in the league despite being the youngest player on the circuit. He peaked in terms of prospect status at no. 54 on the 2009 list and made the BP 101 three more times, though his aggressiveness at the plate and increasing certitude among scouts that he’d have to move off shortstop sooner than later depressed his stock some over the next several years. What was less in doubt throughout his minor-league career was his rare combination of impressive bat-to-ball ability and power potential, and after impressive offensive campaigns at High-A and Double-A in 2012, and a demolition of PCL pitching the following season, Flores forced a major-league debut at age 21.
What Went Right in 2015
Flores eclipsed 500 plate appearances in his first taste of regular play across a full season, and he started to tap into the raw power scouts had always projected in clubbing 16 home runs (good for fifth among shortstops). His contact abilities also bordered on elite at the position, as his strikeout rate of just 12.7 percent was the seventh-best rate among shortstops while his overall contact rate ranked third. Although he was an extremely aggressive hitter in terms of putting the ball in play, his overall chase and swing rates were below average among both qualifying shortstops and the general population of big-league hitters, indicating that the 23-year-old had a solid sense of strike-zone management underwriting his approach. Flores also logged 37 games at the keystone to ensure he’d hang on to his clutch dual middle-infield eligibility for another season.
What Went Wrong in 2015
His 3.7 percent walk rate was the third-worst among qualifying shortstops, and it drove a sub-.300 on-base percentage that rated sixth-worst among six-spotters. Also contributing to that unpleasantness was a BABIP of .273, though that effort actually managed to drag his career mark ever-so-marginally north to .270 through his first 885 plate appearances. That’s nigh-on 30 points south of league average, and Flores’ results probably aren’t all that much a reflection of poor luck as much as a poor batted-ball profile. He’s shown a propensity for soft fly ball contact in his young career, with his average distance and velocity on fly balls in 2015 checking in firmly below-average and his pop-up rate earning top-10 status among all qualified hitters. Those batted-ball tendencies indicate a hitter unlikely to garner much in the way of batting average help without significant adjustments to his swing mechanics and selectivity.
Flores also contributed zero stolen bases, a not-insignificant shortcoming given the overall decline in stolen bases league-wide. The average shortstop swiped just shy of 10 bags on a per-162 basis, so Flores’ goose egg left his owners significantly behind the curve at a position that normally drives production for the category. His speed score was the worst of the 20 qualified shortstops, suggesting little help in future seasons.
What to Expect in 2016
It’s rarely wise or appropriate to view a 24-year-old as anything close to a finished product, but the early returns on Flores’ career point to a relatively stable offensive skillset that may just be quicker than most to crystallize. He hasn’t walked much at any stop, though he hasn’t struck out much either. The pitch recognition appears strong enough to where he doesn’t give away a ton of at-bats by chasing out of the zone, and he fared reasonably well against all pitch types. The strong contact skills are likely to continue to be mitigated at least in part by a swing that tends to catch the bottom of the ball and produce above-average CC/S (that’s cans of corn per swing), but he should be able to post reasonable-enough batting averages going forward.
In spite of the weaker contact profile, Flores is still growing into his frame, and the power he flashed this year is more likely than not to tick up as he gains experience and tracks closer to his physical prime. A run at 20 home runs shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s able to log the necessary at-bats.
Ah, but this is where the plot thickens. Flores won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2017, and the Mets will retain club control until his walk year in 2020. Despite defense that graded out as mediocre according to FRAA, he managed to post the 12th-best shortstop WARP in his age-23 season. That’s a pretty outstanding marginal return for the club at a premium position, and the Mets should theoretically have all of the incentive they need to invest in him as their most-of-the-time starter at a minimum next season. Of course, whether that happens or not remains to be seen. The club’s run to the World Series this fall obviously raises expectations for near-term success, and given that the core strength of the team lies in its tremendous young pitching staff—one that generated a top-third collective groundball rate—it’s possible the team decides to go in more of a defense-oriented direction.
In an ideal and entirely realistic scenario for fantasy purposes, Flores will continue to see time at both second and short as an everyday player, and if he does indeed secure a solid majority of starts to make another run at 500 plate appearances, there’s potential for growth into the range of a recent Jhonny Peralta season with some better contextual counting stat fortune. And seeing as how Peralta’s routinely been a top 10-12 performer for a decade now, all of this is to say that there is a very legitimate fantasy profile here.
The Great Beyond
He’ll never be an asset in OBP-based leagues, but given the low offensive bar among shortstops he doesn’t need to be in order to be an above-average producer at the position for a long time to come. Flores will still be just 24 in 2016, and along with the aforementioned team-friendly control situation, he makes for an enticing acquire (or hold) target in longer-term dynasty formats. With the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor hogging most of the “young shortstop” headlines, Flores also represents something of a relative bargain bin option.
The profile is by no means one without risk—despite improvements and the okay metrics last season, Flores still has the actions and range of a comfortably below-average defender, and if pitchers figure out a way to adjust and more consistently exploit the youngster’s in-zone aggressiveness, he’ll have a much thinner margin of offensive error than most as a result. Still, the hallmarks of a valuable player are present to the degree that I like the idea of taking a gamble on Flores for investment in dynasty formats, specifically those deeper than 12 teams. Middle-infield stability is an underrated luxury in long-term leagues, and Flores offers that promise.
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