The Situation: After sending David Wright to the disabled list with a hamstring strain, the Mets will turn to 22-year-old Wilmer Flores to man the hot corner. Flores has been torching the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with a .321/.357/.531 line through 107 games, mostly at second base.
Background: Flores was a high-dollar Venezuelan signing in 2007, inking for a $750,000 signing bonus on his 16th birthday. Despite his youth, the Mets started him off in the rookie-level Appalachian League in 2008 where he notched a .310 average and slugged 24 extra-base hits in 59 games. Promoted to Low-A for the 2009 season, Flores struggled as one of the league’s youngest players, hitting just .264 across 125 games and earning himself a return trip to the South Atlantic League to start the 2010 season. After improving across the board in 2010, Flores took on the High-A challenge as an 18-year-old and hit an impressive .300/.324/.415 in 67 games. Despite his early success in High-A, Flores spent all of 2011 and the first half of 2012 battling in the Florida State League before earning his first shot at Double-A. In the second half of last year, Flores found his stride at the plate and hit .311/.361/.494 down the stretch for Binghamton with 18 doubles and eight home runs. The Mets shipped Flores off to their new Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas this season, and while all Las Vegas stats are buoyed by the accommodating offensive environment, Flores’ .321 average, 36 doubles and 15 home runs are still impressive.
Scouting Report: Despite the dramatically improved stat line, Flores’ scouting report remains largely the same as it was entering the 2013 season. His best attribute is still his uncanny hand-eye coordination and exceptional feel for contact. He has above-average bat speed with an ability to make quality contact on a variety of pitches in all parts of the strike zone. Flores’ detractors note his overly aggressive approach in the box and his propensity to swing at pitches he cannot drive, leading him to get himself out too frequently. His approach will never be “patient,” but he would be well served to begin identifying pitches he cannot drive and lay off of them more consistently; it’s a skill he has not demonstrated to date. Flores has above-average raw power that has been exaggerated by the friendly confines in Las Vegas, but he could still pop 25-30 doubles and 15-18 home runs a year at the big-league level. His overall offensive profile could steady in the .280-.285 range with decent pop and a relatively low on-base percentage.
Defensively, Flores has yet to find his stride. Though he was signed as a shortstop, he lacks the lateral quickness and instincts for the position, and most scouts fail to see the foot speed to handle third base or second base adequately. His hands can work at any of the infield positions and he has the arm for the left side, but he is unlikely to get to enough balls and maintain acceptable footwork to allow for consistent execution in the field. Some scouts are optimistic that he may become a fringe-average defender at third base, while others believe he will ultimately be best suited at first base. No matter what home he eventually finds in the field, Flores’ will have plenty of pressure to maximize the value of his offensive tools in order to hold down an everyday job.
Immediate Big-League Future: With David Wright likely sidelined for 3-5 weeks, Flores will have a clear shot to impress the decision makers in the Mets organization. The leap from Triple-A to the majors will be a strong test for a player who has yet to master the strike zone and whose defensive game has yet to evolve to a suitable extent. A successful trial, even mixed with intermittent struggles, could put Flores in line for an everyday job in 2013. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: Usually a three-time Top 100 prospect comes with a little more excitement than what's currently being generated with Wilmer Flores. But then again, despite being only 22 years old today (happy birthday, Wilmer!), it's been nearly three years since he's appeared on one of those lists. In fact, when he was last ranked on the internet, he was still a shortstop. Now, Flores is a man without much of a position, splitting time the past couple of seasons between first, second and third base.
For fantasy purposes, there are certainly skills there that can be helpful in the long run, but how much of it will show in the near term is up for debate. If he were coming up as a second baseman instead of a third baseman, the bar would be lower for his fantasy usefulness. The Mets have a relatively extensive history of aggressively assigning their international prospects, so a lot of the early hype on Flores was predicated on him being very young for his level. It's only been over the past two years that he's put up numbers worthy of paying attention to.
The first thing which stands out statistically is his .290 career batting average, despite being young for every level he's played at. And he's always had the high contact rate to back it up, ever since he started pro ball; as an 18-year old in Low-A and High-A, he struck out 77 times in nearly 600 plate appearances. The second indicator is his seemingly developing power. But while his power surge from 2012 is something worth paying attention to (he hit 18 homers last season compared to 31 in the previous four combined), this year's continuation is coming in Las Vegas, one of the most notorious hitting venues in one of the most notorious hitting leagues in the minors. And the numbers bear that out to an extend, as his .955 OPS at home is more impressive than his .821 OPS on the road.
In the end, Flores is certainly going to be worth grabbing in all NL-only formats, but he is likely limited to 16-team and deeper mixed leagues for now. The biggest question for his 2013 value is how quickly David Wright returns. If he's gone through the end of August, Flores should remain on the active roster the rest of the season. If he can grab 150 at-bats over the next two months, I think it's reasonable to expect a .270 average with a few homers and more RBI than you'd expect (possibly around 20-25 give his penchant for contact and the odds he'll be hitting down in the lineup). In NL-only, there are likely to be a few owners who still are sitting on mountains of FAAB due to the lack of deadline activity, so don't be surprised if he goes for $15-$20 this week. Whether it's worth it to spend that much is dependent on your budget and how much he can help you—there just may not be anyone better coming until September. In the long term, Flores has the upside of someone who could hit around .280 with 15-20 homers—which is certainly helpful if he can improve on that positional eligibility in the future. —Bret Sayre