<
>

Forget D, does Wilmer hit enough to play?

NEW YORK -- The oft-asked question is whether Wilmer Flores can handle shortstop at the major league level from a defensive perspective.

But what about the offense?

Flores rightly received a pass last season for his subpar offensive showing because his ankles were cranky and he was swinging primarily with his arms. Then, earlier this season, the performance was excused because Flores was not playing consistently enough for a fair assessment.

Adam Rubin

Wilmer Flores is hitting only .235 during his current nine-game shortstop audition.

Now?

Flores starts his 10th straight game at shortstop on Saturday night in place of Ruben Tejada. Flores is hitting .235 (8-for-34) with no extra-base hits, two RBIs and one walk during that strectch.

“I’m not sure we’ve got the proper sample size to really have a genuine idea of what kind of offensive player he’s going to be,” Terry Collins countered. “In the minor leagues they all talked about his offensive potential as a guy who could be a doubles and home-run guy. He gets up here and he’s trying to feel his way right now. The biggest thing he wants to do is get hits. We’ve seen him swing the bat pretty good. I think the more comfortable he is -- and another year from now he’s going to be a little bit stronger -- you might see him drive the ball more.”

Flores is a career .321 hitter in Triple-A and a career .222 hitter in the majors.

That disparity has been a pattern for Mets call-ups of late -- players tearing up Triple-A and not replicating anything close to that performance in the majors. Cases in point:

Andrew Brown is a career .298 Triple-A hitter and career .220 major league hitter.

Matt den Dekker is a career .284 Triple-A hitter and career .198 major league hitter.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis is a career .260 Triple-A hitter and career .237 major league hitter.

“There’s a pretty big disparity these days,” Collins said. “The pitching up here is pretty good.”

Still, Collins pointed to when the Mets recently were playing in Seattle, and Las Vegas was playing nearby in Tacoma.

“I got a little glimpse of the highlights of that game,” Collins said. “And that’s a tough ballpark to hit in. I spent 12 years playing in that league. He hit two home runs. And the ball doesn’t carry there. So we know the power is in there. Again, I think it’s just a matter of time before he understands how to translate it at this level -- I’m hoping -- at the position he’s playing.”

Asked if he had seen anything to suggest Flores could be a major league shortstop defensively, Collins paused, then said: “Yeah, he makes the routine play. And if he hits like he’s been swinging the bat right now, and if he hits the way everybody thinks he’s going to hit, and he can make the routine play, yeah he can play every day in the big leagues as a shortstop.”

How much can Flores improve as a defensive shortstop?

“Well, we all think we can work wonders,” Collins said. “You do. There’s not a coach in the game -- or one of those personal trainers or strength coaches -- who doesn’t think they can get somebody better. We’re not going to make Wilmer Flores into [Andrelton] Simmons in Atlanta. He’s not going to be that kind of player. But what you do hope is that first-step quickness, we might improve that by a millisecond. That may help him a little bit. Are you going to make him a rangy, flashy shortstop? I don’t think so. But what you are going to have is a guy, if he makes that routine play, he’s got plenty of arm strength.”

Collins said the staff blamed itself for a ball that got by Flores up the middle in Philly last weekend. The scouting report was to play the batter “two-step pull” -- meaning shade two steps toward the batter’s pull side over playing straight away. Flores wasn’t over far enough because he didn’t understand that terminology, and the staff missed repositioning him.