Flores showcases curveball in second River Cats start

BOX SCORES: SAC / RIC / SJ / AUG / SK / AZL

There are a plethora of pieces missing in this year's hellish San Francisco Giants season. The usual Brandon Crawford, who posted 101, 114, 107 wRC+ in his previous three seasons, is sitting at a dismal 65 entering the All-Star break. Their ace Madison Bumgarner is almost literally missing, as he has not pitched since April 19. The starting rotation, needing to step up in the absence of Bumgarner, has been particularly lackluster, minus Jeff Samardzija and Ty Blach. And then there's Mark Melancon's injuries and the still-not-fixed bullpen, coupled with a carousel of failures in left field. Even with the emergence of Austin Slater, who is now broken, left field has a combined slash line of .238/.292/.338 and a 69 wRC+. Only four teams have a negative fWAR in left field this year, and the Giants are the worst at -1.4.

One potentially overlooked missing piece is a reliable sixth starter, or long-man — a role Yusmiero Petit proved of significant value, especially in the championship year of 2014. Petit, in 119 innings, owned a 28.9 K%, 4.8 BB%, 3.69 ERA, 2.78 FIP, and 1.8 fWAR. That final mark made him the third most valuable pitcher on the staff, behind Bumgarner and Tim Hudson.

So as the organization begins prep for a return to relevancy in 2018, piecing together a currently disastrous puzzle, could the Giants use another arm like Petit? Someone to keep the team in games when Matt Moore inevitably gives up a half dozen runs in the first two innings? Someone to provide a reliable spot start when Cueto has an ear infection?

It's possible that 28-year-old Venezuelan Jose Flores is that guy.

Flores was signed to a minor-league contract in the offseason and assigned to Double-A Richmond. He had played two seasons of Indy ball after a full season in the Oakland A's organization in 2014, which followed six years with the Cleveland Indians — the team that signed him as an 17-year-old in 2006. With Cleveland, Flores reached as high as Double-A, and was actually quite good for Akron in his final year with the Indians. In 66.1 innings, Flores struck out batters at a 31.0% rate and kept his opposing batting average at an impressively-low .219.

Flores was essentially that good in Richmond this season, and was promoted to Sacramento last week in a move that coincided with Joan Gregorio's season-ending drug suspension. 

I caught his second start with the River Cats Sunday afternoon and saw what made him so effective with the Flying Squirrels (24.1 K%, 8.0 BB%, .193 OBA).

Flores featured three pitches — two fastballs and a curveball. You can see all three of them consecutively in a fantastic sequence starting at the 0:36 mark. Pitch one is a cutter on the outer half for a swing-through. Pitch two is a two-seamer on the inner half for another whiff. And pitch three finishes him off with a called-strike-three curveball that completely locks him up.

Both the cutter and two-seamer sit consistently in the 90-92 range and the latter of the two is capable of 93-94, while the curveball, featuring 11-5 movement, is a 78-80 mph pitch.

Another good look at the cut movement can be found at the 2:44 and 5:59 mark, as well as two-seam movement at 5:53.

But Flores's go-to out pitch is the curveball, which you can see him bury just out of the strike zone at the 1:22 and 4:33 marks, and get called strikes at 3:14, 3:24, and 6:04.

I enjoyed his ability to throw both types of fastball to either side of the plate — the cutter away from righties and in on lefties, and the two-seam in on righties and away from lefties.

My prediciton is Flores will finish 2017 in Triple-A, where he lacks a ton of experience. Including his 12 innings thrown since the call-up, Flores only owns 41.1 innings in Triple-A. If they re-sign him, and I think they absolutely should and will, he'll get looks in spring training and hopefully be added to the 40-man roster.

OTHER NOTES

C.J. Hinojosa went 3-for-4 with a double on Sunday, giving him 15 (!) hits in his last seven games including three doubles and two home runs. It's also 22 hits in the last 13 games and 36 hits in the last 21 games. Stay hot.

Pat Ruotolo is now three months into his breakout season and is on his way to becoming a well-known prospect in the Giants system. In 28.1 innings pitching mostly in the eighth and ninth innings for the Augusta GreenJackets, Ruotolo owns these totals: 14 hits, five earned runs, seven walks, and 37 strikeouts. It all comes out to a 34.6 K%, 6.5 BB%, .143 OBA, and 1.59 ERA. The 6.5 BB% is important, not only because it's really good, but because it's almost 10% lower than last season in Salem-Keizer, where he walked 14 in 19 innings. Awesome to see the strikeout numbers remain high while drastically improving control.

Skyler Ewing hit his second home run in as many days and now has his wRC+ up to 132, which puts him in the top-five in the organization alongside known sluggers Heath Quinn and Chris Shaw.

Heliot Ramos is very fast, and he's using it to make triples look easy. Chris Kusiolek was present again Sunday and clocked these times for Ramos's second triple of the year.

TOMORROW'S STARTERS

TOP-30 PROSPECTS ROUNDUP

  1. Tyler Beede: DNP
  2. Christian Arroyo: DNP
  3. Bryan Reynolds: DNP
  4. Steven Duggar: DNP
  5. Chris Shaw: 0-for-4, 2 SO
  6. Sandro Fabian: 0-for-3, SO
  7. Heath Quinn: 0-for-3, 2 SO
  8. Joan Gregorio: DNP
  9. Jordan Johnson: DNP
  10. Andrew Suarez: DNP
  11. Sam Coonrod: DNP
  12. Matt Krook: DNP
  13. Aramis Garcia: DNP
  14. C.J. Hinojosa: 3-for-4, R, 2B, SO
  15. Reyes Moronta: DNP
  16. Rodolfo Martinez: DNP
  17. Austin Slater: DNP
  18. Kelvin Beltre: 0-for-3, BB, 2 SO
  19. Dan Slania: DNP
  20. Cory Taylor: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
  21. Chris Stratton: DNP
  22. Chase Johnson: DNP
  23. Jalen Miller: 1-for-3, R, HR, 2 SO
  24. Melvin Adon: DNP
  25. Garrett Williams: DNP
  26. Dylan Davis: 1-for-4, 2B, SO
  27. Ryder Jones: DNP
  28. Hunter Cole: DNP
  29. Miguel Gomez: 1-for-1
  30. Ryan Howard: 2-for-3, R, BB

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