A name that Detroit Tigers fans should get to know whenever the season starts is right-hander pitching prospect Wilmer Flores.
When it comes to starting pitching development in the past for the Detroit Tigers, there were not too many stories of a player that Detroit signed at a low dollar amount and turned them into a rotation regular.
In 2020, Baseball America identified the Tigers as the 7th best organization in developing undrafted free agents. They cited pitcher Ken Hill, who went to find success elsewhere, outfielder Ron LeFlore and reliever Joe Jimenez. The story of Ron LeFlore is pretty impressive and if you have not heard about it, it was such a good story; they made a movie out of it back in the late 70s.
The current starting rotation of in house players like Casey Mize (2018 1st round), Matt Manning (2016 1st round) were drafted high and expected to join the rotation quickly.
Tark Skubal (2018 9th round) became one of the first Tigers’ pitchers to be drafted past the fifth round to make the rotation and make at least 10 starts since left-hander Scott Aldred (16th round pick in 1986) in 1991. Skubal’s rookie season was solid, and it showed that Detroit could get talent past the first five rounds of the draft.
Enter right-hander Wilmer Flores
Flores is the younger brother of outfielder Wilmer Flores, who was last playing with the Giants. He came to the United States in 2019 from Venezuela and spent just one season at Arizona Western, a junior college. In his short time there, he pitched in six games, all in relief and allowed six runs on five hits, striking out 16 in 11.2 innings pitched and walked 12.
If there is one thing you should never do and that is look at just the stat line. The Tigers liked what they saw in a live arm, who stands at 6’4 and weights 225, and signed him in 2020 as an undrafted free agent. Here’s Flores throwing at a prospect showcase.
Fast forward to 2021, where Flores starts the year in the Florida Complex League for the Tigers West squad. He makes two starts and appears in relief in another before getting the call up to Lakeland. For anyone who watched the Flying Tigers this season, only a handful of starting pitchers like Carlos Guzman and Jack O’Loughlin were regulars in the rotation, so the sight of Flores in mid-July was welcomed.
The day he would make his first start in Low-A was on July 16th. Keep in mind that he came over with just 23 innings of pitching here in the United States under his belt between college and the FCL.
A reason for the strikeout numbers? A fastball that was getting up to 98 with a good arm side rung, a power curve with good darting action and a slider that he did not throw often but had a spin rate of 2852. Combine that with a cutter that was highly effective against lefties and you have three solid pitches.
Don’t let the ERA above 4 fool you, he had a FIP of 2.61 and K per 9 of 12. He fits the tall, power righty profile. The changes to his windup from college are present, as you can see here. He added a step before he delivers with a medium leg kick.
Recently, FanGraphs put out their top Tigers prospects and had him ranked 16th overall. On our list, he was on just missed, but on the list I submitted; I had him at number 16th as well because of his stuff, which all moves and his ability to generate swings and misses so far.
Our friends at Bless You Boys put out their Top 30 Tigers prospect list today and Brandon Day had him ranked also at 16. Day’s assessment with Flores is good, so check it out.
Besides talking to our good friend Brandon Day, I talked to Trevor Hooth, who works at Prospects Live and BYB, to get his take on Flores.
"Flores is one of the more interesting arms in the organization for me. He gets above average spin rates on all his pitches, plus on his big spin on his big curveball. Between a high-90’s fastball and that hammer breaking pitch there’s a reasonable projection of RP. I’d like to see him at higher levels. He gets credited with a cutter and changeup too. Speaking purely on data, the cutter looks like it could really throw a wrinkle in the arsenal if he threw it more. Tigers development system is getting better and better so I’m going to stay my optimistic self. I think with his 4-pitch repertoire and feel to spin, there’s a chance the Tigers pull a starter out of him. After all, he’s only 20 and certainly has the frame to start."
Trevor brings up a good point about the Tigers’ development system getting better. The progress of late-round pitching draft picks Beau Brieske, Garrett Hill and Chavez Fernander this season was significant and shows there is some sort of plan in place.
If Flores can work on his control, cut the walks and build up innings as a starter in High-A West Michigan this season, the investment of $20,000 that the Detroit Tigers signed him for will be a good sign for the ball club and its ability to evaluate talent.
While his numbers in the AFL as Chris said in his just missed piece were high, how often have we seen a Tigers prospect with just barely a year in the organization get a chance to play in the AFL? Go on and marinate on that question for a bit.
There is still a long way to go before he gets to the big leagues but he has shown already that there is the potential. The Tigers need all the help they can get for minor league starter depth.
A potential West Michigan Whitecaps rotation of Ty Madden, Dylan Smith and Flores? Yes, please.