Is it time to jump off the Wilmer Flores bandwagon?

In Monday’s Mets Minors piece by David Groveman, there was some discussion, both in the article and the comments section, about Wilmer Flores. That’s not that unusual – he is one of the few hitting prospects in the upper levels of the minors and he’s been on Mets Top Prospect lists for half a decade now. One of the topics was Flores versus Daniel Murphy and who was going to deliver more bang for the buck for the Mets.

This dovetailed nicely with some thoughts I had recently in regards to Flores. Perhaps my expectations were too high for a 21 year old in Triple-A but it occurred to me how utterly unimpressive he has been while playing half his games in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the minors. The easiest thing to do is give him some more time at the level before making a judgment. While that’s good practice for the Mets, it’s not necessarily the right thing for arm chair GMs to do.

That sound you just heard was me jumping off the Flores bandwagon.

Let’s begin talking about Flores’ strengths, what gets people to consider him a top prospect. Before we say anything else, the most important thing Flores has going for him is his age. When Murphy was 21, he was finishing up his junior year of college and playing at three short-season leagues – a world away from performing at the highest level of the minors like Flores is currently. That’s a pretty big thing.

Flores also makes good contact. His 10.6 K% ranks as the seventh-best mark in the Pacific Coast League out of 102 qualified hitters. That’s an outstanding rate for any hitter and the fact that it’s coming for one of the four youngest (full-time) position players in the league makes it all the more outstanding. Oscar Taveras, considered one of the top two prospects in baseball coming into the season, has a 13.4 K%, a rate we would consider excellent. Flores is better.

While his position is unknown, there seems little doubt he will play in the majors as an infielder. Despite their gaping holes in the outfield, the Mets have refused to move him to a corner OF spot, which would seem to be his quickest ticket to the majors. Instead they have Flores, a one-time SS, trying to learn second base, which fuels the Murphy comparisons. Previously, Flores played third base in the minors and some think his ultimate home will come at first base.

So, considering all that – why jump off the bandwagon?

This will be Flores’ sixth year playing in the U.S. and if his current batting rates hold, he’ll have two years where he was a good offensive player – 2008 in the Appalachian League and 2012, split between the Florida State League and the Eastern League. The two years where he spent an entire season at one level – and accumulated 500+ PA – were underwhelming. And the other year where he spent time with two clubs, the promotion felt more forced than anything.

Being young for your league is definitely a good thing. But at some point, you actually have to perform. Flores backers will claim he did just that in 2012, succeeding at two different levels. And that performance still left him off Baseball America’s Top 100 list. That performance failed to get him a notice on MLB.com’s Top 100 prospect list. And even when we crank the list up to 101, like Baseball Prospectus does, Flores does not show up anywhere.

Now, to be sure, inclusion on these lists does not guarantee success. But can you think of one guy who posted an .855 OPS in Double-A at age 20, who didn’t make one of these list and went on to a successful career in the majors? Perhaps that creature exists but no names jump immediately to mind. Usually when a youngster succeeds in the upper levels of the minors before he can legally drink – it gets the prospect hounds buzzed. But with Flores, all it did was create a yawn.

Many of us had visions of Flores tearing things up in Triple-A this year. Not only was he coming off a strong offensive year, he would be playing in a notorious hitters’ park in a notorious hitters’ league. It seemed like a perfect storm. Yet Flores sits with a .762 OPS after 179 PA. Keep in mind that the average OPS of the PCL is .766 and the average OPS of the Las Vegas 51s is .793 here in 2013.

Flores is slightly below average and Cashman Field in Las Vegas is the only thing keeping his numbers respectable. In home games, Flores has an .847 OPS and it’s an ugly .681 in road games. If we take Flores’ home numbers only and plug them into Jeff Sackmann’s MLE calculator, we see his .847 OPS translates into a .657 OPS for the Mets.

Perhaps the Mets were too aggressive placing Flores in Triple-A. Maybe the best thing would have been to start him back in Double-A and look to promote him to Triple-A at mid-season. After all, he would still be young for his league at 21 in the Eastern League. Recently Rob Rogan did research that showed the average age of the Eastern League was over 25.

And that’s it with Flores – it all comes down to age. How do we balance production with age? What are the appropriate bonus points to award and what’s the scale you use to combine that with actual production? If we knew the answer to those questions, we would have a more accurate guide in how to properly rate Flores.

About a decade ago, John Benson and Tony Blengino put out a book where they tackled that very subject. Their method was to divide players by league and compare the player’s OBP and SLG marks to the league average. For each standard deviation from the league average, players would be awarded points in either direction. Then they would give points based on age. They calculated what they called the optimal age and then added or subtracted points based on the difference from the optimum. Here’s what they calculated for each level:

Level Optimal Age
Triple-A 22
Double-A 21
Hi –A 20
Lo-A 19

So, if Flores would keep his current stats, he would be essentially league average in production and he would get a +1 for being a year younger than the optimal age for his level. So, he would have a rough score of 1.00 in this combined approach.

In 1999, that +1.00 would have rated him the 81st-best age-adjusted hitter in the minors. The top score was a 6.64 by Nick Johnson. Too bad their system didn’t have an injury component. Regardless, we see that 23-year-old Lance Berkman scored a 1.51, even after subtracting one from his production score since he was above the optimal age for the PCL. It’s better to be 23 and raking in Triple-A than 21 and hitting around league average.

The Benson/Blengino approach is most certainly not the final word on the subject. However, it is a systematic approach to the question we are most interested in and the results are hardly inspiring. Even building in an age component does not vault Flores onto a Top 100 prospects list, as his 81st rank did not include pitchers.

Obviously, it’s still early and it is reasonable to see if Flores heats up as the season progresses. Last year, in his first 175 PA at Double-A, Flores had a .263/.310/.406 line. He then proceeded to go .396/.450/.648 over his final 100 PA to finish with his .855 OPS.

So, did Flores just need an adjustment time for the higher level or was his stretch run last year simply the result of a .421 BABIP hot streak? It all depends on how you want to look at it. If nothing else, it gives a potential reason why Flores’ best results come when he doesn’t play a full season at just one level.

As for me, if someone offered me a league average OF straight up for Flores – let’s call him Chris Denorfia (who has a .758 OPS compared to NL average .756 OPS for an outfielder) – I do that trade in a heartbeat, even though Denorfia turns 33 in July. Denorfia’s ability to play any outfield position, along with being able to slot him in at leadoff makes this a no-brainer in my mind given the Mets’ current outfield options.

Despite this being his sixth year in the minors, we have no idea what Flores is as a hitter. Will he hit for a high average? Will he hit a bunch of homers? I don’t think anyone knows, which is a bit scary. Where will he play in the majors? The current speculation is second base but the Mets currently have an above-average player at the position in Murphy. And that doesn’t even take into account how Flores would be defensively. As a former shortstop, you would think he would be a good option. But no one has ever raved about his defense.

There are just too many questions surrounding Flores. What type of hitter will he be? Will he be able to be average defensively at any position in the diamond? How do we accurately judge his production while accounting for his age? Was 2012 a breakout year or a well-timed Double-A hot streak? Why you would wager on most of those questions turning out the right way for the Mets and trade Murphy to create a spot for him is beyond me.

33 comments for “Is it time to jump off the Wilmer Flores bandwagon?

  1. May 21, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I don’t understand the negativity towards Daniel Murphy.

    He is a solid line drive hitter.
    His defense has improved markedly.
    He is known as a team player; one who hustles and is enthusiastic.

    It seems that defensively, there is nothing he can do to silence critics.

    Wilmer Flores could be hitting in the majors, but we keep shifting him from position to position. He could be packaged.

    He makes Wilmer Flores good trade bait.

  2. za
    May 21, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Wilmer Flores is doing acceptably at the PCL, especially considering he has only played there a few weeks. Flores has always taken time to adjust to a level. Based on his contact rates, he’s probably going to be a Major League hitter, slotting in on the spectrum somewhere between James Loney and Miguel Cabrera. And yes, Flores is a 1B/DH at best, positionally. He’s too slow for 3B and I don’t see him as a future 2B; he can play the position right now because he has good hands and a strong first step but doesn’t have the range for the position.

    So back to the James Loney/Miguel Cabrera comparison. Both have put up fairly similar K and BB rates to what Flores is putting up, but the difference is a ~.140 career ISO vs a ~.250 career ISO. Flores’ upside is a .200 career ISO and it may take him a couple of years to get there if he does. The upside is there, though.

    It would be ridiculous to trade him straight up for Chris Denorfia, though. Absolutely ridiculous. He has finally started to hit a bit and the truth is he could be a piece in a larger trade for a guy putting up All-Star numbers, like Chase Headley.

    There is only a “bandwagon” here if you consider Flores to be the second coming of Miguel Cabrera, which he isn’t. However, he’s still a damned good Venezuelan baseball player who kind of looks like Miguel Cabrera. Let the guy play some more and see what he can do.

    • May 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      Hey Za – As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

      Flores has been in Triple-A for 41 games and 179 PA, which is a bit more than “a few weeks.”

      To say he’s in a spectrum between James Loney and Miguel Cabrera is so broad as to be essentially useless. James Loney has accumulated 7.5 fWAR in his career, now in it’s seventh season. Cabrera has 9.5 fWAR just taking last year and this year. And James Loney is probably his upside. Loney had a .973 at Las Vegas as a 22 year old and I doubt very much Flores will be doing that a year from now.

      When Flores comes close to hitting like Loney did in a 406 PA sample in 2006, I’ll consider him to have started hitting a bit and worthy of including in a package for a big bat. Until then, it’s unlikely the Padres would offer Denorfia, an MLB regular, for a guy hitting like a backup SS in Triple-A.

      • za
        May 21, 2013 at 3:01 pm

        Totally agree that the James Loney/Miguel Cabrera comp is ridiculous for the very reasons you mention. At the same time, that’s about representative of his floor versus his ceiling. Also, seriously though, Miggy, Avisail García, and Wilmer Flores all look the same.

        • May 21, 2013 at 3:06 pm

          I’m going to assume you mean those three guys all have a facial/physical resemblance.

      • Joe Vasile
        May 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm

        I think Loney is a floor for Flores. He’s still young, and has plenty of time to develop. Last year the power finally came along a little bit, and he’s still getting adjusted to AAA, a league where he is amongst the youngest players. Some guys just take a little more time to fully develop in the minors, and Flores is just one of those guys. .270/.322/.440 is not bad for a guy who is 21 playing against guys who are on average 26. I think you’re mistaken for giving up on Flores before he even gets a shot at the major league level.

  3. May 21, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I think Alderson would be executed if he signed on Flores for Denorfia.

    Flores is a second baseman. I’m confident of that at this point. The Mets need outfield help but it would not make much sense to me to trade Flores for someone who wouldn’t be an impact player. Denorfia need not apply.

    The Mets have Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores as their future for second base. One or the other will be the plan beyond 2013.

    You know what… This is Saturday’s post now.

    • May 21, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      I think you’re dreaming if you believe Flores is going to bring back an impact player.

      Since the beginning of 2012, Denorfia has a 121 OPS+. There are 49 NL outfielders to amass 400 PA in this span and Denorfia ranks 13th in OPS+. The guys ahead of him are Braun, McCutchen, Cabrera, Stanton, Holliday, Quentin, Harper, Kemp, Beltran, Ludwick, Ruggiano and Gonzalez. You think The Mets are getting one of those guys ahead of him?

      If so, I’d say you are vastly overrating Flores.

      • May 21, 2013 at 1:24 pm

        I think the Mets would be better off keeping Flores than getting Denorfia who I don’t particularly like. Denorfia is the wrong move for the Mets to make. He’s 32, and doesn’t stand out. It would be a HORRIBLE move to make.

  4. NormE
    May 21, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    If Denorfia was the final piece to your puzzle, sure make the trade. But the Mets are too far from that puzzledom step. Flores is still young enough that he is insurance for Murphy getting hurt or as a possible package somewhere down the line.

    • May 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      Flores was not considered a Top 100 prospect — his trade value was minimal coming into the year. Now despite playing in a terrific hitters’ park, he has an essentially league average OPS. How has this increased his trade value?

      Justin Turner and Josh Satin are insurance for Murphy getting hurt.

      Trade Flores now for the best package you can get, even if it’s the 2013 equivalent of Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.

      • May 21, 2013 at 1:44 pm

        He’s in AAA for the first time at 21. He’s allowed to not catch fire the moment he’s promoted. He might not be a MLB ready prospect just yet, but it’s early to label him a failure and way too early to consider trading him for a player who is 32 and never broken double digits in HRs.

        • May 21, 2013 at 1:51 pm

          Your points on Flores have been noted time and time again. It’s super that he’s young for his league but at some point he’s got to hit over an extended period of time to give hope to the fact that it’s a real level of performance rather than a BABIP hot streak.

          And it’s myopic to dismiss Denorfia because he doesn’t hit HR.

          The only reason that the Padres *might* even consider dealing Denorfia is his age. If he was under 30 and putting up the numbers he has, they wouldn’t even bother laughing at you if you asked for him in a trade for Flores. They’d just hang up the phone and block your number.

          • May 21, 2013 at 2:11 pm

            I’m glad that Alderson would not make this deal.

            • May 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm

              The only reason Alderson wouldn’t make this deal would be if he was unwilling to pay the roughly $4 million that Denofria is owed through 2014.

              • May 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm

                Or he sees Denorfia as a 32 year old without enough speed or power to warrant trading a prospect like Flores for. One or the other.

                • May 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm

                  “A prospect like Flores” — I believe that’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it? A guy with a .740 OPS in 2,712 PA that they are trying to force feed into becoming a 2B. A guy who didn’t make the biggest Top 100 prospect lists out there. A guy who can’t post a league AVG OPS despite playing in Las Vegas.

                  You see youth and a great contact rate. I see underwhelming production, a lack of any great tool and a questionable defensive home.

                  Time will tell and I hope I’m wrong.

  5. Jerry Grote
    May 21, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    What was last year’s OPS? And what has been his OPS in May? Yah, I can understand your points Brian, but doesn’t it seem you’re slightly overweighting 63 April ABs in AAA?

    A guy that can be mentioned in the same breath as Tavares, who plays 2B and hits enough to bat 3rd and is 21, with 6 seasons of basically injury free baseball behind him … I’m sticking around for the final act.

    But I admire as always the willingness on your part to take strident opinions.

    • May 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      Yep, we are dealing with small sample sizes if you just consider 2013. I’m quite willing to consider all 2,712 underwhelming PA he’s had in the minors.

      The only way Taveras and Flores are mentioned in the same breath is that they are the same age. I bet you were 21 once, too. Didn’t make you a top prospect. Flores is coming off an .855 OPS in Double-A and he was passed over for top prospect honors from BA – who had him ranked 3X previously. Isn’t that a huge warning sign?

      • Jerry Grote
        May 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

        Maybe for you. I don’t give a rat’s behind what BA says.

        His manager basically has told you he thinks Flores is the best hitter on a team of guys that everyone here is clamoring to see in Flushing – or at least, he’s one of the best. You just don’t hit anyone 3rd in the order.

        And 2000+ ABs? What … for a teenager playing in a foreign land? I could ask you how mature you were for 17, 18, 19, and 20, and if you felt you could go to Brazil and hit a baseball with guys that were 2-4 years older than you. If we’re going to take any of those and weight them, wouldn’t it be the last few?

        As you wish. Give up on him.

        • May 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm

          But it’s not just BA. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus have him the same way. So does Marc Hulet from FanGraphs. Doesn’t matter if it’s weighted more by scouting or stats – there’s a consensus and it’s that Flores is not one of the top prospects in the game.

          I’m suggesting that we treat him accordingly.

          • Jerry Grote
            May 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm

            No argument that the evaluation is an ongoing process, Brian. And would think that on March 31st, our opinions on him would have been the same.

            I’ve seen him bat a couple of times in preseason. Didn’t overwhelm me (perhaps, underwhelmed). But as I’ve said, I think you are early on leaving him behind.

            I know you’ll be happy to be wrong.

  6. May 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    How about we step back and look at Rafael Montero pitching in AAA instead.

    5.0 IP, 3 Hits, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K (So far)

    • Jerry Grote
      May 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Yah … watching that right now.

      • May 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm

        Should have pinch hit for Montero in the 7th.

        • Jerry Grote
          May 21, 2013 at 5:32 pm

          I’m happy he took the mound one more time. Other than walking away with a better pitching line, it tells you more about him.

          If he consistently pitches that deep into ball games, he’ll be in Flushing in August.

  7. steevy
    May 21, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Don’t know much about Flores but too bad he can’t play SS.I was never high on Ruben Tejada for several reasons but even I am surprised how badly he is performing this season.

  8. May 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Well, he obviously hasn’t gotten off to the best start in his first stint at AAA, especially considering that it’s in the PCL. Still, and yes it’s been mentioned, he’s a 21 year old in his first taste of AAA.

    Flores is a remnant of the Minaya “rushing prospects” era. He was playing in Savannah at 16-17 (!!!). Sure you could argue he’s had so much time in the system that he should be performing better if he was a true top-shelf prospect, but I’d argue the rushing could have possibly had a negative impact on his development.

    He’s one of those prospects that’s been around so long that he seems older than he is and it doesn’t surprise me to see the the spotlight fade on him within the traditional prospect rankings. He’s no longer a young, hotshot prospect. But that doesn’t mean he won’t become a great MLBer.

    I’m not ready to jump off of the bandwagon.

  9. May 21, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    As long as he can play a credible second base he still projects great. I’m much more interested in how that is going, before the season many people said he could never do it.

  10. Metsense
    May 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Is Flores going to be better than Daniel Murphy? I don’t think so. Murphy will be a FA in 2016. By the end of the 2014 season the Mets should know exactly what they have in Flores. I am for waiting only because of his age unless Flores becomes part of a package for a more impact type of OF. He may be the insurance and lower cost option to Murphy in 2015 but only time will tell and time is what the Mets have with Flores. The Mets should keep their options open.

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