Wilmer Flores has been receiving intentional walks since he was a 16-year-old playing in the Mets’ farm system at Class A Kingsport.
Two years later, the fresh-faced teenager still is commanding that respect. And Mets minor league field coordinator Terry Collins, who recently visited Flores’ low-A Savannah team, said about the shortstop: “He’s as good a player as there is in that league.”
Flores, 18, ranks ninth in the South Atlantic League with a .327 average and fourth in RBIs with 21. Mets fans will get a rare opportunity to see him in the Northeast when Savannah plays a weekend series in Lakewood, N.J.
Flores signed for $750,000 in 2007 out of the same Venezuelan academy that produced San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval. With the Mets less inclined to push young prospects under Collins, Flores is spending his second straight season with the Sand Gnats. He hit .264 with three homers, 20 doubles and 36 RBIs in 488 at-bats with Savannah last season.
He could move to high-A St. Lucie at midseason, but Mets officials aren’t inclined to promote him soon from Savannah, which has the league’s best record at 17-9.
“We’re going to leave him there right now,” Collins said. “The team is playing very, very well. There’s nothing wrong with someone playing his brains out and having a great year.”
Baseball America rated Flores the organization’s No. 2 prospect, behind only Jenrry Mejia. And Flores' off-field accomplishments are just as impressive as his hitting prowess. Flores arrived in the United States less than two years ago with no knowledge of English. He’s now able to conduct an interview completely in his adopted language.
“I didn’t take classes or anything -- just speaking with the American guys,” Flores said. “You try to learn anything, every day. I’ve been learning a lot.”
At 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, Flores may outgrow shortstop. He’s projected to be a third baseman or corner outfielder anyway, since he’s not fleet of foot. Still, there are no plans to move him elsewhere for the next couple of seasons -- if at all. Collins noted Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez had fine careers at shortstop despite larger frames.
“At 6-2, 6-3, I think we want him to play an athletic position where every batter, every ball that’s hit, he’s got to react,” Collins said. “For development reasons it’s a good place to play. In two or three years, we’ll see what happens. If he ends up being 6-5, we’ll see what he plays. He works hard on his footwork, his quickness, trying to increase his range.”
Said Flores: “Right now I just want to play shortstop. And that’s what they want right now.”
For his part, Flores wants no part of another position. His favorite player is Derek Jeter, as much for the Yankee's leadership skills as his play at shortstop. Flores tries to take on a similar role with his Savannah teammates despite his youth. By all accounts, he demonstrates a keen sense of humor, even in English.
“He’s the captain of the team,” Flores said about Jeter. “That’s what I like to be.”
Flores insisted it has not been intimidating playing against older players since he was 16 years old. He continues to be shown respect. While on a 10-game hitting streak a week ago, and with runners on the corners, two out and the game tied in the ninth, Flores was intentionally walked by Hickory pitcher Josh Lueke to load the bases.
“I mean, they try to win,” Flores said about the free pass. “It’s part of the game. I smile about it.”
As for playing older players, he added: “It’s still the same baseball. I don’t think that they’re older than me or something. I always think that I’m the best on the field. It doesn’t make a difference with guys older than me.”
Flores committed a respectably low 13 errors last season, but he knows fielding is where he needs to improve most -- particularly with his quickness.
“I’ve been working on my footwork on my defense,” he said. “That’s my weakness. That’s what I want to get better.”
Said Collins: “He’s playing great. He’s swinging the bat good. He’s using the field to hit.”
Average: Jesus Feliciano, Buffalo, .371; Chris Carter, Buffalo, .344; Nick Evans, Binghamton, .339; Wilmer Flores, Savannah, .327; Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Binghamton, .306; Eric Campbell, St. Lucie, .305; Zach Lutz, Binghamton, .305; Stefan Welch, St. Lucie, .302; Jason Pridie, Buffalo, .295; Kai Gronaeur, Savannah, .294.
Homers: Mike Hessman, Buffalo, 8; Zach Lutz, Binghamton, 6; Lucas Duda, Binghamton, 5; Nick Evans, Binghamton, 5.
RBIs: Mike Hessman, Buffalo, 28; Lucas Duda, Binghamton, 25; Wilmer Flores, Savannah, 21; Nick Evans, Binghamton, 19; Juan Lagares, Savannah, 19.
Steals: Pedro Zapata, Savannah, 9; Cesar Puello, Savannah, 9; Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Binghamton, 8; Jason Pridie, Buffalo, 8.
ERA: Jimmy Fuller, Savannah, 1.87; Mark Cohoon, Savannah, 2.10; R.A. Dickey, Buffalo, 2.31; Brandon Moore, Savannah, 2.49; Darin Gorski, Savannah, 2.70; Dillon Gee, Buffalo, 2.76; Josh Stinson, Binghamton, 3.32; Bobby Livingston, Buffalo, 3.33; Armando Rodriguez, Savannah, 3.45; Dylan Owen, Binghamton, 3.76.
Wins: Mark Cohoon, Savannah, 4; Scott Shaw, Binghamton, 4.
Saves: Manuel Alvarez, St. Lucie, 6; John Lujan, Buffalo, 4; Michael Powers, Savannah, 4; Elmer Dessens, Buffalo, 3; Roy Merritt, Binghamton, 3.
Strikeouts: Armando Rodriguez, Savannah, 31; Jimmy Fuller, Savannah, 30; R.A. Dickey, Buffalo, 29; Dillon Gee, Buffalo, 27.
Chris Carter continues to produce at Triple-A Buffalo, giving the Mets a credible option to call up for the bench if the organization eventually pulls the plug on an incumbent. Carter went 3-for-4 and produced the game-winning homer in Sunday’s 10th-inning victory against Louisville. The first baseman/outfielder, who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in August for Billy Wagner, is 12-for-his-last-24. That’s upped his average to .344 in 24 games. … First baseman/third baseman Mike Hessman, the active leader in career minor league homers, is the reigning International League Batter of the Week. He’s hitting .284 with eight homers and 28 RBIs in 95 at-bats for the Bisons. The longball total ranks second in the league, behind Durham’s Dan Johnson (nine). … Right-hander Bobby Parnell had a strong relief showing Monday as Buffalo otherwise was drubbed 20-7 by Louisville in a game in which Reds prospect Aroldis Chapman pitched. Parnell twice hit 99 mph on a stadium gun while producing a 1-2-3 ninth inning. He’s tossed three scoreless innings over his past two outings. … Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who retired 27 straight batters after a leadoff hit in his previous outing, continued his strong pitching Tuesday. Dickey, 35, limited Louisville to two runs on six hits while striking out seven and walking none in eight innings while receiving a no-decision. Dickey (3-1, 2.31 ERA) apparently was able to block out off-the-field issues. He resides in Nashville, where his home has experienced flooding. … Right-hander Kiko Calero’s string of solid relief appearances had an abrupt halt. Calero’s ERA swelled from 3.38 to 7.36 when he allowed seven runs on eight hits while also plunking a batter in Monday’s debacle against Louisville. That snapped Calero’s six-inning scoreless streak, which included him entering with the bases loaded and one out against Durham and striking out two. … Former Diamondback Andy Green is hitting .370 in eight games since joining Buffalo following a spring-training hamstring injury. Green primarily has played second base, and also has dabbled at third base. … Eddie Kunz, a converted reliever, had his most impressive start in Double-A Binghamton’s rotation Monday. Playing at hitter-friendly Erie’s ballpark, Kunz nonetheless only surrendered two runs (one earned) on six hits in a career-high six innings. More impressively, Kunz walked none and struck out seven. He had walked 16 in 17 1/3 innings over his previous four starts. Mets officials eventually intend to return Kunz to relief, but want to use him as a starter temporarily to help him develop as a pitcher. … B-Mets closer Roy Merritt (1-1, 2.50 ERA, three saves in four chances) had retired 19 consecutive batters before allowing a triple Monday. … B-Mets first baseman Nick Evans, who was on the DL for a week with an oblique injury, returned to the lineup Monday and picked up where he left off. Evans is 3-for-7 with a homer and three RBIs in two games since being activated. He’s hitting .329 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 73 at-bats against Double-A pitching. Evans is using his last minor league option this season. So if he’s still with the organization next spring training, he’ll need to be exposed to waivers to be sent to the minors again. …The B-Mets had no triples this season until Friday, when they produced four. That included two by Brahiam Maldanado, matching Binghamton’s record. The next day, Luis Hernandez also had a two-triple game. The other B-Mets with two-triple games: Rodney Nye in 2003 and Tony Darden in 1998. … Lucas Duda, a seventh-round pick in 2007 out of Southern Cal, leads the Eastern League with 25 RBIs, ahead of runner-up Eric Thames of New Hampshire, who has 23. … B-Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis had one steal in his first 16 games. He then produced seven in a six-game span. … Defensive-oriented catcher Mike Nickeas is 5-for-8 in two games with Binghamton since returning from a right hamstring strain. Nickeas, a career .231 minor league hitter entering the season, has worked with hitting coach Luis Natera and is hitting .286 as a B-Met this year. … Former Rays catcher Shawn Riggans, who injured a shoulder during the first week of the B-Mets’ season, is nearing a return. Riggans was dispatched to extended spring training to get game action before returning. … Reese Havens, drafted in the same first round as Ike Davis in 2008, has started his conversion from shortstop to second base. Havens, who first was exposed to the position in the Arizona Fall League, opened the season inactive after spring-training injuries to oblique muscles on both sides. He joined St. Lucie on Friday and since has started four games at second base and one at DH. Before the injuries, Havens had been ticketed for Double-A Binghamton to work with B-Mets manager Tim Teufel on second base. However, Collins said, Havens instead will remain at St. Lucie for now since he’s still not sharp as he returns from the oblique trouble. … St. Lucie closer Manuel Alvarez tossed another scoreless inning Tuesday. He has opened the season with 16 1/3 straight run-free innings and has two wins and six saves in the St. Lucie’s nine total wins this season. … Savannah right-hander Taylor Whitenton, a 39th-round pick out of Darton (Ga.) College last year, has been untouchable in consecutive outings. Piggybacking a start by left-hander Darin Gorski, Whitenton tossed four no-hit innings against Hickory, and was a hit batter away from perfection. Starting in his next game, Whitenton limited Delmarva to three hits and two walks in six scoreless innings Monday. … Gnats third baseman Jefry Marte has an eight-game hitting streak. The 18-year-old infielder produced his first 2010 homer Tuesday at Delmarva.
Adam Rubin’s farm report appears Wednesdays during the season