Coming into this season, there was much doubt surrounding whether a Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy shortstop and second base combination could survive over a full season. And while the Mets eleven game winning streak gave the clumsy duo a bit more leeway, two big losses against Marlins earlier this week exacerbated the Mets middle infield conundrum.
The Front Office took action last night, recalling second base prospect Dilson Herrera from Vegas to help out. During the interim, Murphy will shift over to third, Flores will stay at short, Herrera will slide into second and Soup will hit the bench. But once captain David Wright returns from the Disabled List, Herrera will likely head back to Vegas and we are left with the same problem.
If the Mets want to be serious playoff contenders, there is no way the team can rely on Flores and Murphy to turn double plays. And while Herrera will eventually supplant Murphy as the full-time second baseman later this year, a Flores-Herrera pairing does not placate me much either.
Herrera is far from a polished defender at this point in his career, as I expanded on earlier this week, and Flores is third among National League shortstops with six errors. In short, Flores needs to go. He’s a decent batter and I appreciate the lineup length he provides, but on a pitching-oriented ball club his defense is detrimental.
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But where should the Mets go from here assuming Flores cannot play short?
Matt Reynolds’ name has been discussed as a potential successor for the job. But while Reynolds is a better defender than Flores, he is a merely average fielder and projects similarly with the bat.
I do not mean this in a negative way, but Reynolds looks more like an excellent sub on a good team than a future first-division starter.
Some have also speculated Sandy Alderson could make a play for the Brewers’ Jean Segura. But that would likely require dealing some of our talented young pitching, something the Mets might not be willing to do.
And even if the Mets could acquire Segura for a reasonable price, it remains to be seen if the Brewers shortstop can even provide significant upgrade over Flores. He’s continued to underwhelm ever since his all-star sophomore season.
Segura is one of only two NL shortstops (Ian Desmond is the other) that has committed more errors than Wilmer in 2015.
Flores is third among NL Shortstops with six errors
In short, barring a blockbuster trade, there does not seem to be many palatable and realistic options for the Mets shortstop problem.
When evaluating Tovar’s measurables, he’s easy to overlook. He does not have plus speed or even an elite arm, but the 23-year-old knows how to play the game of baseball and has the skills and IQ to be an above-average major league defender at shortstop right now.
Take a look at this clip from Tovar with the B-Mets last season. He showcases great instincts and makes a play that neither Flores or Murphy would come near completing.
Below is another video of Tovar’s defense: he made this play made during a cup of coffee with the Mets late in 2013 .
Tovar understands that a strong righty like Tom Frazier will likely pull Jon Niese’s 90 mile per hour fastball, so he shifts more to the left side of the infield in preparation. Once the ball comes off the bat of Frazier, Tovar continues to exhibit great baseball instincts, acts quickly, and robs the Reds third baseman of a hit.
Offensively, Tovar’s production would certainly pale in comparison to that of Flores. He’s a slap-heavy, pesky hitter: Tovar might even have less power than Ruben Tejada. And at only 5’10” and 180 lbs, the Venezuelan’s body leaves little room for more projection.
Still, Tovar is not a total negative on offense. He owns a respectable minor league batting average of .260 and a career .663. Plus, Tovar is currently amidst a breakout year in Vegas, bating .288 with a .740 OPS.
Tovar cannot hit for power, but the stocky infielder has demonstrated excellent plate discipline in his minor league career: he could be that leadoff hitter the Mets so desperately need.
At Single-A St. Lucie in 2012, Tovar walked nearly twice as much as he struck out in over 250 at-bats. Last year on the B-Mets championship team, Tovar again forged more walks than strikeouts in more than 300 trips to the plate.
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As we discussed earlier, Tovar has never blown away scouts with his speed. Nevertheless, his high baseball IQ should allow him to swipe upwards of twenty bases in the major leagues. He stole 24 bags total back in 2014, and has already notched 5 steals in just 16 games thus far in Triple-A Vegas.
In short, Tovar can bring a lot to the Mets, even if he does not have the tools to be an everyday starter. He understands baseball, something we can’t exactly say about the current Mets middle infielders, plays great shortstop defense, which should allow Herrera some margin for error, and can get on base and swipe a bag with good consistency.
Tovar reminds me of the 1969 Mets starting shortstop Bud Harrelson. During the Mets championship campaign, Harrelson batted just .248 without zero home runs. Regardless, Bud was a crucial player for the World Series-winning Mets. He got on base using a 1:1 K/BB ratio and played stellar defense behind a great Mets staff.
The 23-year-old knows how to play the game.
He may not be the sexiest option from the Mets prospect well, and he certainly is not the best offensive threat, but still, Wilfredo Tovar may give the Mets the best shot at winning right now.
The Mets current roster is built on stellar pitching: it only makes sense to support these coveted arms with a solid infield, especially when contact-hurlers like Niese, Dillon Gee, and Bartolo Colon take the hill. Wilmer Flores is a good player, but he is hardly a shortstop and his offense does not justify his deficiencies. The same can be said for Daniel Murphy.
The Mets should act before their middle infield lets their division lead slip away. Is it Tovar Time?