NEW YORK -- Wilmer Flores has not played his natural position of shortstop professionally since 2011, when he was 19 years old. Despite the Mets' clear weakness at that position, Flores' name does not typically surface in discussions about it. And for good reason -- the Mets have no immediate plans to use him there, in part because of the lack of mobility that scouts have long predicted for him.
But the notion of trying Flores, the Mets' No. 4 prospect
according to MLB.com, at shortstop is not permanently dead. General
manager Sandy Alderson said this week that if Flores' winter
conditioning program pays the type of dividends he expects, it's
possible he could receive some reps at the position this spring.
"I don't think we'd rule it out," Alderson said in a telephone
interview. "Why should we? I think we have to see how Spring Training
plays out for him. Is there going to be a spot for him in the lineup? Is
there not? Is he going to be a bench player for us? Is he going to go
to Las Vegas?"
Alderson pointed several times to the team-supervised conditioning program Flores attended in Michigan this winter alongside Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada
and several Mets prospects. This was the first winter of his career
that Flores spent significant time focusing on his overall health,
according to the GM.
"I don't want to place too much stock on four weeks of conditioning,
but this is a guy who's never really had the opportunity to develop
himself physically the way players here in the United States do, who
have a season and then an offseason," Alderson said. "He's never had an
offseason. He's always played. So this is a different type of offseason
for him -- one in which he's been able to invest in his career. We'll
see how it pays off for him.
"I wouldn't say [Flores to shortstop] is dead. I think that one of
the things we want to see is how well he has done with his training
regimen in Michigan. Before this offseason, I'm not sure he ever had any
sort of structured, regimented conditioning program. The work that they
have done on speed and agility and quickness, etc., may have an impact
on his ability to play certain positions -- including second base and
conceivably even shortstop. But right now, that's all speculation."
Flores, who signed with the Mets as a 16-year-old international free
agent in 2007, played shortstop exclusively over the first four years of
his Minor League career. In 2012, he shifted to third base, before
playing mostly second last year -- partially an organizational response
to third baseman David Wright signing an eight-year contract that runs through 2020.
Along the way, scouts have continually pegged Flores as a corner
infielder, skeptical that his lack of mobility would allow him to play
in the middle infield or corner outfield. But Flores held his own at
second despite a nagging ankle injury, and Alderson is curious to see
how he responds after two intensive fitness sessions near Ann Arbor,
"It became clear, if you watched him play last year and run the bases
... that [conditioning] was an area that needed to improve," Alderson
said. "Since he'd never done any conditioning at all, you say to
yourself, 'Gee, there may be substantial opportunity for improvement.
Let's see what happens. Let's try it.' And that's what we've done. We
won't know the benefits of that until we get down to Spring Training."
What the Mets do know is that they are thin at shortstop, with Tejada coming off a below-replacement-level season, free agent Stephen Drew
a long shot to sign and no high-ceilinged prospects on the immediate
horizon. Flores, by contrast, revived his own prospect status with a
breakout offensive year in 2012, carrying that wave all the way to the
Majors in 2013.
"Is he definitely not a shortstop? I try not to say anybody's
definitely not something," Alderson said. "We tried Duda [a natural
first baseman] in left field. There's no reason why we can't try other
players at positions where at first blush you'd say, 'No, that's not