In scouting, the term “tweener” used to be more of a dirty word than it seems to be today. With advanced statistics, value is now viewed through a different lens which has allowed for a player like the Yankees Brett Gardner to post 5-win seasons at a position historically reserved for plodding power hitters. This development gives a prospect like Ramon Flores hope that his skill set may find a place in the Majors despite not fitting into the typical mold.
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At 19, Flores had a productive season in Charleston of the South Atlantic League at an age when many prospects find themselves in short season leagues. And while a .265/.353/.400 line will excite few, his wRC+ of 113 at such a young age makes the numbers even more impressive. However, contrary to opinion, his 11.4% walk rate in 2011 is both blessing and curse. On one hand, it’s great to see a young player with advanced plate discipline for his age and Flores certainly has it. On the other hand, that walk rate also forces me to wonder where the room for growth is?
If Flores is already able to identify pitches to drive and work counts to his favor, then his projection becomes much more dependent on physical development. Unfortunately for Flores, he’s listed at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds. With borderline average athleticism, he can probably carry an additional 20-25 pounds, but more than that would be difficult for me to envision. As he advances, pitchers will challenge Flores more with fastballs and force him to hit his way through the upper levels as opposed to drawing walks due to his simply not being viewed as a hitter who will do damage. With a good base of hitting skills to work from, Flores is off to a fine start, but walk rates in Flores’ case may not be quite as valuable an indicator of success as many will assume.
When discussing Flores’ swing, one has to mention a swing path which allows his bat head to remain in the strike zone longer than most leading to a strong feel for contact. And while he has more of a classically smooth, lefty swing, his barrel has plenty of snap allowing Flores to let the ball travel deep into the strike zone. A little wiggle late in his timing mechanism may be an area for improvement and a more “point A” to “point B” load should lead to more consistency. As with his batting eye, Flores’ spray approach and gap power is advanced for a hitter his age, but it makes projecting him out even more difficult.
On defense, Flores’ value will be limited. In game action, he was not really tested, but Flores’ overall lack of speed and athleticism showed through in other areas. It’s great to see him playing a some centerfield in box scores, but Flores’ development is a catch-22 in that added size and strength will enhance his value offensively, but will likely also leave him unable to man a premium position. However, Flores’ baseball IQ is high and he should be able to maximize the defensive value he does have by learning angles, positioning and how to better read balls off the bat.
In terms of speed, Flores is slower than his double-digit steals would indicate. With physical development, he is likely to slow even more, but Flores should be an intelligent baserunner with the ability to catch a pitcher or defender sleeping on occasion.
When scouting Flores, the name David Segui instantly entered my mind as a smooth left-handed hitter from my youth. However, with Segui having more natural size, Flores is more of a mini version. In terms of comps, this very well may be a terrible one, but it’s rare for me to so clearly envision a former big leaguer when scouting a young prospect. As an anecdotal observation, I considered it worth mentioning.
Ramon Flores is a fine under-the-radar prospect for the New York Yankees and fun guy to scout for people like myself who enjoy pure hitting ability. When so few hitters at the lower levels are able to work counts, fight off tough pitches and earn walks, Flores makes for a refreshing break from the norm. However, the same aspects of his game I truly appreciate are what keeps me from being able to project him as a big league regular in his prime as an overall lack of projection devalues a strong set of present skills.