PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .216 with a .567 OPS. Todd Frazier? He’s at .208 and .644.
These days, it’s good to be Wilmer Flores. And the Mets are lucky to have him.
Obviously, we’re still winding down the Grapefruit League, and spring training numbers technically don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. It’s within the realm of possibility that A-Gon, even at age 36, will rekindle a spark of his former All-Star self. In Frazier’s case, he can be a feast-or-famine guy, as his .213 batting average and 27 homers last season — split between the White Sox and Yankees — plainly illustrate.
But the Mets have a solid hedge to both of those bets in Flores, and new manager Mickey Callaway won’t hesitate to get him involved early and often.
Again, it’s spring training. We know. Flores, however, has been one of the team’s most consistent offensive players the past month, hitting .333 (15-for-45) with three homers and a .992 OPS in 17 games.
If those numbers don’t matter, someone should tell Callaway. His first extended look at Flores has been enough to convince him that he needs to be in the lineup as much as possible, even if other people have to be shuffled around for that to happen.
When Callaway was asked before Thursday night’s game if he will find enough time for Flores to make a regular impact, the manager replied in the affirmative — with gusto.
“Yes,” Callaway said, smiling. “He’s going to play. It might be a different position every day or the same position three days in a row. But my goal is to get him starting as much as possible. We’re going to be able to do that because guys need days off. Wilmer deserves to play. And not just against lefties. He can hit a good righthanded pitcher too. He’s going to play.”
Some spots will be better than others. Last season, Flores hit .262 against righties — seven points higher than his career mark — with 11 homers in 94 games. Considering where the modern MLB is at the moment, that’s not bad at all. The 2017 median batting average was .255, which represents a 13-point drop during the past decade.
Flores has been steady despite trying to learn leftfield, a new position. While plenty of veteran players often talk about fine-tuning their swings or working on some adjustment during these six weeks, Flores doesn’t feel as if he has to do very much. He says it usually takes him the first week or so to make solid contact but that he’s fairly locked in after that period, and he’s been finding the barrel.
“My mechanics are always the same,” Flores said. “I never have to change anything.”
Last year, Flores split time between third base (55), first (29) and second (12), but the Mets chose to begin working him out in leftfield shortly after he arrived in Port St. Lucie. That seemed a bit radical — sort of a “break glass in case of emergency”-type move — but the unflappable Flores did spend eight innings of a Grapefruit League game in left and caught the one fly ball that came his way.
Callaway insists that Flores will be an outfield option once the regular season begins — “don’t be surprised to see him starting some games out there,” the manager said — and Flores himself says he is comfortable at the position.
But with Gonzalez an obvious platoon candidate, Callaway should have plenty of more reasonable options for Flores, and being the Mets’ Swiss Army knife is a critical role based on the planned makeup of this roster.
“We’ll map it out about four or five days in advance, when we know who’s pitching and we have the matchups,” Callaway said.
“But we’re going to not just be like, ‘Oh, where’s the one spot we can play Wilmer the next three days.’ It’s going to be, ‘Hey, he needs to play these two out of three.’ ”
Callaway craves that versatility, and though Flores isn’t on the level of a super-utility stud such as the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez, he can be an extremely valuable piece in his current multi-purpose role. The new manager is going to make sure of that, one way or another.