51s infielder Flores embraces All-Star selection

Inspired by his selection to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team Tuesday afternoon, 51s second baseman Wilmer Flores exploded for his first career five-hit game Tuesday night at Cashman Field, going 5-for-6 with two doubles, three runs and an RBI in Las Vegas’ 12-2 victory over the Fresno Grizzlies.

“You always want to be in the All-Star Game,” said Flores, a 21-year-old Venezuelan. “I’m very proud of myself, and I’m sure my family’s very happy.

“I’m just being aggressive and trying to get my pitch.”

Rated the New York Mets’ No. 6 prospect by Baseball America, Flores lined hits in his first five at-bats — a single in the first inning, doubles in the third and fourth and singles in the sixth and seventh — before grounding out to the catcher in the eighth on a broken-bat blooper in front of the plate.

“He’s got a knack for getting the barrel (of the bat) to the ball,” 51s manager Wally Backman said. “He’s been our most consistent player all year.”

Flores went 0-for-3 with an intentional walk in Wednesday’s 2-0 home win over the Fresno Grizzlies as his season-high 13-game hitting streak ended.

In his first season in Triple A, he paces the PCL in RBIs (64) and doubles (27) and leads Las Vegas in virtually every offensive category, including batting (.317), home runs (10), hits (104) and runs (53).

“He’s an RBI machine,” Backman said. “When runners are on base, there’s no other guy we’d rather have up there right now.

“He really understands pitchers and how they’re trying to pitch guys in different situations. He can hit. No question.”

Flores, who hit a combined .300 with a career-high 18 homers and 75 RBIs last season for Double-A Binghamton and Class-A St. Lucie, has never had a problem at the plate, but his defense is another matter.

“He’s been doing fine at second, but one thing he’s been working hard on is trying to increase his range,” Backman said. “That’s one area he needs to improve.”

The 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound Flores played shortstop his first four seasons in the Mets’ farm system and split time last season between second and third base.

He’s spent most of this season at second, where he’s started 68 games, and also made three starts at first and one at third — committing 12 errors overall.

“I feel really good at second base,” he said. “I will play anywhere — whatever it takes — but I like second base.”

Flores hails from the same Venezuelan city, Valencia, that produced Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and outfielder Endy Chavez.

He still lives in the offseason in Venezuela, where he was discovered by an agent at 14 and honed his game at a baseball academy before he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Mets on Aug. 6, 2007 — his 16th birthday.

Flores used part of his $750,000 signing bonus to buy a new Hyundai Sonata for his mother, who still has the car.

“She didn’t have a car, so I bought her a car,” he said. “You always want to make your mom feel good.”

Flores played his first pro season in the United States at 16, when he didn’t speak a word of English. Remarkably, he has since learned the language with the help of his teammates and without taking any formal classes.

“You just pick up some things,” he said. “You can learn just talking to the guys, your teammates. I learned that way.”

Now Flores just needs to master the art of playing second base.

“I’m very happy with my defense,” he said. “Whenever (the Mets) call me, I’ll be ready.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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