Wilmer Flores is being asked to learn yet another position, and Mets fans are feeling a collective moment of déjà vu.
Mets manager Mickey Callaway revealed to reporters on Monday that Flores will start taking reps in the outfield later in the week. Callaway cited Flores’s offensive ability as the reason why the team is exploring ways to get him in the lineup, and rightfully so.
Since 2015, Flores has been worth 4.5 oWAR in 350 games. He possesses an impressive career slash line against lefties of .274/.318/.520. With numbers like that, Flores needs to be in the lineup against southpaws, and getting him comfortable in the outfield provides the team with more ways to do so. Flores has also expressed his willingness to do anything to get into the lineup and help the team, so he is at least open to the idea.
However, don’t expect Flores to be seeing any sort of consistent time in the outfield during the regular season. He has earned a reputation as a below-average defender (-3.6 dWAR for his career), so asking him to play a position with semi-regularity that he’s never played professionally could lead to catastrophic results and neutralize any benefit brought by his bat.
So why even give him reps out there? Simply to hedge the Mets' bets. Michael Conforto recovering from injury, so they'll only be carrying four outfielders on their Opening Day roster: Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Nimmo. If Flores is proficient in the outfield, it can give the team more depth without having to sacrifice a roster spot on another outfielder.
Ideally, Flores will only be used in emergency situations or extra-inning games. Let’s say that it's April, and Nimmo is brought in to pinch-hit against a righty. Unless you leave him in on a double switch, there's no outfield reserve left. But if Flores can play there at least adequately, it opens up the playbook, especially as the game progresses.
It makes sense, and it's nice to actually see this happen in Spring Training. The usual Mets protocol has been to handle these things terribly, and ask a player to go learn the outfield in the middle of the season by getting 10 fly ball reps during batting practice.
But the reason I don't think it will amount to much is because Flores stands to steal the most at-bats from Asdrubal Cabrera at second base.
Flores got 57 games at first base over the last two seasons, but that might not be as readily available this year. Not only can Adrian Gonzalez hold his own against lefties (.270/.332/.419 career), he is still a better defender than Flores, so there’s no reason to squeeze Wilmer's bat in there. And though Flores could occasionally spell Todd Frazier and Amed Rosario , those two will get all the starts they can handle.
The switch-hitting Cabrera hits better against lefties than he does righties (.293/.339/.432), but those numbers are still inferior to Flores' slash line, and that offensive boost can go a long way over the course of the season. Flores is also far better defensively at second than short or third, so that negative impact is minimized. Plus, extra rest will hopefully help keep Cabrera off the disabled list, where he had spent time in each of his two seasons with the Mets.
No matter what, Wilmer Flores is going to get his at-bats. His bat against lefties is too potent to not try to squeeze him in at every opportunity. The best the Mets can do is find as many ways as possible to put him in position to succeed, and that includes making sure he’s prepared for everything. Flores will likely see very little playing time in the outfield in 2018, but if he’s needed there, we’re going to be glad he got those reps in Spring Training.
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Anthony J. Causi
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