All-Star Flores shining so far in 2013
Right-hander makes a few changes to develop into All-Star
Tonight is the Eastern League All-Star game in New Britain, Connecticut. There is no way to know how the game will play out, but one thing that is almost certain is that Akron Aeros right-handerJose Flores will hold down an inning for the Western Division team.
Such would be par for the course with Flores, who owns a 2.59 ERA, 2.14 FIP, and 10 saves in 41.2 innings. Flores also has 37 appearances -- 11 more than the next Aero -- which is a sign of how reliable he has been in 2013.
A player like Flores is basically a shoo-in for the All-Star game. Not that he was thinking about it when I talked to him recently.
"I'm not really thinking about it, man," Flores said before the rosters were announced. "I'm just focusing on my season... on finishing strong... I don't really care about it."
The right-hander will be forced to focus on the game tonight. With a 29.5 K%, 9.3 BB%, and 3.18 SO:BB, Flores is simply mowing down opposing hitters this year.
Despite those impressive results, the 24-year-old does not have the most overpowering stuff in the organization. "Stuff" is not the only way to get hitters out, however, and clearly Flores finds another way to get results. These are some of the best results of the right-hander's career and Flores is peaking thanks to a few adjustments to his game.
"I changed my routine this year," Flores said. "I changed a little bit in my delivery. Those couple things have been helping me a lot... [The change] was watching my release point. It helps me to be the same on all my pitches...
"When I threw my fastball it was up here and when I threw a breaking pitch it kind of slowed down a little bit and [my arm would] go down... Now I'm trying to keep the same everything [in a] three-fourths [arm-slot]."
Solidifying his arm slot is only part of what is making Flores special in 2013. The right-hander also added a changeup more consistently to his repertoire in order to succeed against left-handed batters.
"I'm trying to throw them all a little more this year," Flores said of his three-pitch mix. "Last year I was more like fastball, slider [only]. This year I'm using my three pitches, which makes all the difference... I just show them that I have two more pitches than a fastball."
The combination of those changes is allowing his whole game come together. Akron Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez -- who also managed Flores in Carolina last year -- has noticed the difference.
"His secondary pitches," Rodriguez said when asked about what the difference in 2013 has been. "That slider now has got[ten] to be more tight, more late break, and then that 90-92 fastball just looks [like] more, with a very good deception. It's a heavy fastball, what we call a heavy fastball. It's 90-92, but it's hard to hit. It gets to the hitters, and then with that late-break slider, those two pitches coming out of the bullpen, that's good enough."
That deception in Flores' delivery is just another part of what makes him so successful. Without having the greatest raw stuff, the way Flores hides the ball before actually throwing it to the plate adds to his effectiveness.
Flores does not actively practice or work on that deception -- it just is a natural part of his delivery -- but Rodriguez sees what it does to hitters.
"I think he kind of turns his body to the hitter," Rodriguez said. "Then he just waits and waits and waits... and then, when you have that big body, the hitter is just seeing the big body going toward him, and then all of a sudden [the pitch is] a 91-92 [fastball] or a late-break slider. He uses his body very well."
This deception unites Flores with recent Akron closers. In 2011, Cory Burns saved 35 games while posting a 2.11 ERA and 2.26 FIP with his slow, Hideo Nomo-like delivery. The Rangers are now using Burns' minor league option to bounce him between Triple-A and the majors, where he is finding some success (4.94 ERA, 3.55 FIP in 23.2 major league innings).
In 2012, Preston Guilmet saved 24 games with a 2.39 ERA and 2.99 FIP using his straight-over-the-top arm slot. Guilmet is currently in Cleveland and should make his major league debut soon.
With a little luck, Flores will be the next Akron closer to make waves in the major leagues. He may not have the elite pitch of a Mariano Rivera or the raw fastball of an Aroldis Chapman, but Flores does not dwell on such things.
"I don't really care about what people say," Flores said on questions about his stuff. "I just go out there and do my best."
So far in 2013, Flores' best has been more than enough.
If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at email@example.com