Updated Feb 17, 2011 - 9:48 am
Can Jose Flores make the jump?
On the final day of the Winter Meetings in December the Mariners selected Jose Flores from the Cleveland Indians organization with the second pick of the Rule 5 Draft. The pick raised some eyebrows as Flores had not pitched above the single A level. Also, with the draft rules in order for the team to keep the player he would have to stay with the big league club for the entire season.
Jack Zduriencik had hinted before the draft that rather than go for a "safe" pick, a more pedestrian unprotected AAA reliever type who may or may not be of use for the short term, he could elect to make a reach. He could go for a player seemingly far from the majors and thus left unprotected in the draft, but with potentially much more of an upside and someone who could be with the organization for a long time. This is what they perhaps have in Jose Flores.
Flores is a 21-year-old reliever from Venezuela. Last year he pitched in relief for Cleveland's single-A affiliate, putting up a 2.14 ERA in 42 innings of work, striking out 51 while walking just 7. Nice numbers, but they were at single-A. What did the Mariners see in him and what are we seeing now?
Physically he stands out. He was one of the first players I noticed on the field. He's 6-foot-3 and listed at 215 pounds but probably a solid 230. He sure doesn't look like he just came from single-A.
Chris Gimenez, who caught his first bullpen, was surprised when told this.
"That was him?" he said of Flores. "The Cleveland kid? Wouldn't have known it and I was looking for him too because we have the same agent. No, he didn't look like he was from A ball. It was just one outing but I would have thought he was from a higher level. Good fastball, cuts a little. Good curve. Didn't throw his slider a lot so I am not sure about that."
It is easy to see why he stood out. Reports from both Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara, who saw him pitch against Clinton in the playoffs, and those who saw him pitch in the Dominican Summer League were that he was aggressive and had a good fastball. Fellow Venezuelan Felix Hernandez, who had already talked to him but again had no idea where he had played last year, wanted to know more.
"You see him throw his bullpen?" he asked. "Does he throw hard?"
Felix, who has made it a point to talk with the younger Latin players in camp, has spent time with Flores, who was a little bit star struck.
"He is so big in Venezuela," he told me. "We have had only two Cy Young winners. I have watched him pitch on TV, and now he is right there. I will try to learn from him."
And what has Felix, who walked with him from the lower field to the clubhouse at the end of drills today, told him?
"He said to just relax and try not to do too much."
With good size and good strength it is interesting to see that Flores only started for one year in the Cleveland organization. The rest of the his experience has been from the pen. Turns out he hasn't been pitching for long. He converted from third base to pitcher when he was 17.
"Bullpen is good mostly because I have two pitches, fastball and slider," he said of his role.
Then there is his bullpen mentality.
"When I get out there I just want to kill everyone man," he said with a laugh. "First-pitch out is good, it is best, but I like the strikeouts."
As for the possibility of actually making the club, he struggled to come up with the words but said he couldn't because of his limited English. The fact that he wanted to come up with the right words said enough.
What are his chances? He is a long-shot but he will be given a good look. A different look than others in camp, says Eric Wedge.
"You do pay a special attention to him because he is a Rule 5. It is not just the individual," Wedge said. "You have to look at the makeup of the bullpen and your team to see if it is reasonable to feel like you can handle carrying that.
"The first thing we will look at is how far along he is," Wedge continued. "Get a chance to know him, his maturity level. Then you start to look at his stuff and go from there. You have to look at beyond his first year and see where he is from there. Ultimately, if we decide to keep him what we are thinking of is beyond this year."
For now, he passes the eye test with Wedge.
"He's a big strong kid. I have had several conversations with him," Wedge said. "The one thing we are trying to do now because it is a new organization for him and coming from that level is just get him comfortable. We have to get him comfortable first before we can get him out there and and let him perform and evaluate him."
Being a Rule 5 pick can be difficult. Leaving your organization, knowing you have a shot at the improbable to go straight to the big leagues, but just as easily you could be rejected and sent back can be a lot to deal with. Flores, who doesn't seem to be intimidated by the situation or the setting, just wants to put that out of his mind.
"I try to think of nothing," he said. "I just want to think about my pitching."
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