TC expects Flores to stay in St. Lucie, at SS

Terry Collins expects the organization’s top position-player prospect to open the season at Class A St. Lucie and remain at shortstop for the entire season.

Wilmer Flores, 19, spent the second half of last season with that Florida State League club, hitting .300 with four homers and 40 RBIs in 277 at-bats.

The expectation is Flores will move to Double-A Binghamton during the summer, but Collins said having the Venezuelan teenager open the season with the B-Mets “might be a stretch right now.”

A gifted hitter, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Flores is widely expected to eventually move to a corner infield or outfield position at some point because of his one subpar tool -- speed. But Collins said he’s determined to leave Flores at shortstop for this year.

“I expect him to play shortstop this season,” Collins said. “I’ve told this to everybody: This guy’s bat may come really fast. And when it comes, he better be in a position that we know he can play in the big leagues. And if it’s shortstop, great.”

If Flores’ bat may come fast and he may be ready for the big leagues quicker than observers may think, wouldn’t it make sense to get him acclimated to his ultimate position now so that he’s not learning on the fly later at the major league level?

“A kid like that, at his age, you try to leave him in the most active position to where he can be the most active on the field and learn how to use his feet better,” Collins countered. “Is he a good runner? Not really. But let’s put him out there where there’s action, where he’s got to have quick feet.”

The Mets’ major league camp will have only 56 participants, barring a late signing, smaller than past years by perhaps 10 players. That’s because Collins wants the instruction to be focused on core players. In fact, the lone non-roster prospects in camp will be outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis and catcher Kai Gronauer.

But fans should see plenty of Flores, at least early in spring training. The Mets are opening an early camp for top prospects later this month, and plan to liberally borrow players from that group -- especially pitchers -- for early Grapefruit League games.

“You’re going to see him,” Collins said about Flores. “The best part about our camp is our numbers are down. The thing it provides is opportunities for those guys. That 8th, 9th and 10th of March, we’ve got five games in those three days. We’ve got five games in those 48 hours. We don’t have the pitching for that [in major league camp]. We’re going to use some minor league pitching.”