By this point, everyone has heard that Sandy Alderson alluded to the fact that arguably the Mets’ best offensive prospect, Wilmer Flores, will be given time at shortstop this spring. We have been hearing for years that Flores was moved away from the position due to a lack of range. Flores, now 22, hasn’t played a professional game at short in two full years—St. Lucie in 2011.
Is it feasible for the Mets to move him back to short after two years of logging zero time? Is there a case for Flores at shortstop in 2014? Let’s take a look and see.
The Derek Jeter Response
Jeter is moving into his age 40 season. If the Yankees are willing to play Jeter at shortstop at 40 years old, I would have to think a 22 year-old Flores has better range at this point. Jeter was never considered a great defensive shortstop to begin with anyway. It’s not like Flores is an out of shape, heavy guy that has been sitting on the couch the past few years. He’s the same size as Jeter, and as the Mets have reported, he’s been doing agility drills all winter to improve his range.
Time at Position
Although Flores hasn’t played a professional game at shortstop since 2011, he has still logged more games and innings at shortstop than any other position on the field…a lot more. The second-most amount of games played have been at second base—so he’s spent the majority of his career in the middle infield. He’s spent 82 percent of the games played in the middle infield and 67 percent at short. In other words, the move back to shortstop is not like he is learning the position all over again. If anything, he’s moving back to his natural position.
Defense doesn’t change much as you move from level to level. There will be slow hit balls, and harder hit balls. There will be faster runners and slower runners. Defense is defense. The field is the same size in A-Ball as it is in the major leagues. It’s not like offense where there is an adjustment that has to be made at each level. If you’re a solid defender in the lower levels, you usually hone your craft and get even better.
Flores is a career .960 fielder at shortstop. That is unspectacular, and if that translated to the big leagues he would be at the bottom of the barrel defensively—among the likes of Jed Lowrie, Ian Desmond and Starlin Castro. But if Flores can put up offensive numbers like Lowrie and Desmond (top-five offensively), which he probably can, people will forget the errors.
Admittedly, I have never seen Flores play a single game at shortstop. I have, however, seen him play second base numerous times. In all the games I have seen him play at second, I never once said to myself “I can’t believe he didn’t get to that ball, his range sucks.” Not once. In fact, I remember thinking to myself, “why do people think his range is so bad?” Maybe watching Daniel Murphy at second base has reprogrammed my brain for middle infield range, but Flores didn’t look so horrible to me.
The beauty about the range at second base and range at shortstop is that they aren’t that different. The major difference is when the shortstop has to go to his backhand in the hole and then have a strong enough arm to get the runner out. Flores plays third base, so the arm strength is not a question. The question is can Flores get to those balls in the hole? See the Derek Jeter Response.
The Mets did something a couple of years ago that looked like it was going to be a total joke—they moved a slow-footed Daniel Murphy to second base—a position where Murphy would not be able to cover up any range issues. Why did the Mets decide to do this? Simple…his offense demanded he be in the lineup.
Murphy isn’t the best defensive second baseman in the league, but he gets the job done, and is considered one of the top offensive second baseman these days.
Murphy played all of 18 games at second in his professional career before being moved there permanently—he was a natural corner infielder. If a natural corner infield can be moved to second and do a good enough job, then a natural shortstop should be able to move back and do a good enough job.
The decision to give Flores burn at short again is a wise one. Even if he’s the worst defensive shortstop in the league, the amount of runs he would cost the Mets would easily be made up with his bat. Flores has the potential to hit .280 with 15 homeruns (if not better) which would make him a top-five offensive shortstop. Who wouldn’t sign up for that right now?