Justin Turner truly defined what a utility player actually could be last year. He played 23 games at third base, 18 games at shortstop, 15 games at first base, and 12 games at second base. He didn’t have as many at bats as in previous years, 200 AB, but he still managed to hit .280 for the season. The ability to play multiple positions was a valuable asset for Collins who had to navigate through injuries in-season. Now that Turner has moved on to the Dodgers, the Mets have an opening for a utility bench player and so far, no one has supplanted themselves with that distinction. The shortstop position looks to be Ruben Tejada’s job despite recent starts by Wilmer Flores in a few games during spring training. It’s unclear what the plans for Flores are to start the season; whether the organization wants him playing every day will no doubt be a factor. But why not give him Turner’s old job as a super utility guy?
The knee-jerk adverse replies to that plan would be claims that he needs to play every day to maximize his value/production. Also, one may take into factor his age and whether it would be advantageous to have him starting the majority of games on the bench. Well, if that’s the logic you side with, then Omar Quintanilla or Anthony Seratelli would then be part of your ball club to start the season. Is that fair for Flores? Does that make the Mets a better team?
Now 22, Flores has played in the minor leagues for six years since signing in 2007 at the age of 16. He’s thrived and progressed at every level of the minors culminating last season with a major league call-up. After hitting .321 with 86 RBIs in 107 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, Flores started 25 games at third base for the Mets. He’s played all four infield positions in the minors, and made similar transitions by playing multiple positions for the Mets, albeit sparingly at shortstop this spring. There is nothing left for him to prove at the minor league level, at least offensively. If anything, Flores’ growing physique will hinder his range defensively more than the level he plays at. The offense is where his value lies and he’s ready for the majors despite his limitations defensively.
The Mets have the opportunity to win more games this season with some off-season acquisitions that should project as upgrades. David Wright and Daniel Murphy will most likely be productive per their past history, but Tejada and the first basemen’s productivity are hard to predict. Flores showed timely hitting last year along with a capable glove. If Collins could give him spots starts on a weekly basis as well as frequent pinch-hitting opportunities, there’s no reason to think Flores will not continue to develop as a major leaguer.
There are two schools of thought on this matter regarding everyday playing time at the minor league level versus the sporadic time in the majors. While each argument garners logic, which option will give the Mets the chance to win more games this year? The answer seems obvious.