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Flores filling slugger role for 51s06/08/2013 1:44 AM ET
By Jonathan Raymond / Special to MLB.com
At the beginning of the season, it was supposed to be top 10 prospect Travis d'Arnaud who headlined the Triple-A Las Vegas lineup.
With d'Arnaud sidelined since mid-April with a fractured foot, it's been another Mets prospect who's quietly stolen the show for the 51s.
Wilmer Flores produced another multi-hit game Friday night, going 3-for-5 with four RBIs and falling a triple shy of the cycle as Las Vegas pulled away for a 12-5 triumph over Tacoma.
The 21-year-old second baseman has been on a roll in the Pacific Coast League. Starting with a 2-for-4 afternoon against Salt Lake on May 23, he's hit .397 (23-for-58) in his last 14 games to raise his average 34 points to .299.
"He's getting better, for sure. He's become much more consistent, probably over this last month," said 51s manager Wally Backman, a former Mets infielder. "I don't know what his average is, but I know it's climbed a bit. He's drove in some big runs. He's waiting for better pitches at the plate, getting better pitches to hit."
Flores has assumed much of the run production role the 51s were expecting from d'Arnaud. The Mets' seventh-ranked prospect is slugging .478 and ranks fourth in the PCL with 44 RBIs in 57 games.
Overall, Flores has a .299/.340/.478 line after hitting .300/.349/.479 last season between Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. He also totaled 18 homers and 75 RBIs in 130 games a year ago, paving the way for his ascent to the PCL.
Backman said he thought it was that knack of thriving in the middle of the lineup that will carry Flores to the next level.
"I think he's a run producer, he knows how to drive in runs," the manager said. "When you look at the overall package, this kid's on pace to drive in over 100 runs and he's only 21. If he projects out, continues to get better the next year or two, I think the bat's gonna play [in the Majors]."
At 6-foot-3 and 190-pounds, there's been some question as to whether Flores ultimately will be too big to handle a position like second second base. So far, Backman added, he's continuing to make progress.
"The thing is, he turns the double play well, he has good hands," he said. "His range is a little limited, but we're working on trying to increase it as much as possible. The more he plays second base, the better he'll become. Position will be a big factor for him."
Zack Wheeler, the Mets' top pitching prospect, labored over 4 2/3 innings. He was charged with four runs on eight hits but struck out seven and issued just one walk.
The 23-year-old right-hander has a 4.14 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 66 batters and walking 25 over 63 innings. There have been reports he could make his Major League debut as early as next week.
"One thing we're looking for is he's a power guy, he can get away with a mistake here or there because of his stuff," Backman said. "I think he was pretty good in the first four innings. There was some bad pitch selection in the fifth and he kind of just left the ball up in the zone."
Brandon Hicks went 3-for-4 with a homer and matched Flores with four RBIs for Las Vegas, which has won eight of its last nine games.