When California pitching coach Mike Neu offered Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo 2016 prospect Max Flower on Sunday, May 18, along with Darren Baker, Andrew Martinez and Kasey Wallace, he hadn’t yet seen the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder throw a single pitch. He was offering Flower as an athlete. Little did he know that, nearly three months later, all but Martinez would be committed, and that he’d be taking Flower as an outfielder/pitcher.
“On Monday morning, I went back to tour the campus with coach Neu, a second time, just so I could see everything for a second time, and then I left with my mom and we talked for a while, I called my dad, and said, ‘This is where I want to go,’” Flower said, last week, following his Aug. 4 commitment.
Flower pitched precisely 0.0 innings for the Cougars last season, but, this summer, his travel team, the Nor Cal Zoots, needed another arm, so Flower volunteered.
“I just started to pitch this past two months, and it’s fun getting out there and letting it fly,” said Flower, who pitched as a youth, but had not yet thrown from the mound during his first two years of high school. “I knew I wanted to, just because I hadn’t in a while, and I feel like I could throw pretty hard. Then, our team just needed pitching, so I asked the coach if I could start pitching a little bit.”
It paid off. While Neu and the Bears were perfectly happy getting a plus defender in center field (particularly given his size) with a strong arm and middle-of-the-order ceiling as far as offense is concerned, what he saw over the summer raised more than a few eyebrows.
At the NorCal World Series, Flower consistently hit 86-87 mph with his fastball, and showed a good feeling for his 74-76 mph 12-6 curve (and a developing change up), earning a spot on the all-tournament underclass team, which also included 2016 Cal commit Rogelio Reyes of Union City (Calif.) James Logan.
Then, several weeks later, he saw Flower throw in a tournament down in San Diego. Neu started to see Flower not just as a position player with a strong arm, but a potential pitcher, as well.
Fellow Campolindo star – and 2014 signee -- Matt Ladrech has expressed his confidence in Flower’s ability to be an effective pitcher. Someone with Flower’s arm strength, he said, will translate.
Ladrech and fellow 2014 Cal signee Denis Karas were teammates with Flower this past season, and both had been committed to Cal since early September of 2012. Still, neither Ladrech nor Karas pushed Flower to commit before he was ready.
“Obviously, they said they’d like for me to go there, but they kind of let me do my own thing and figure it out on my own,” said Flower. “Once I decided, they were pretty pumped up.”
Like another Campolindo product – sophomore Robbie Tenerowicz -- Flower needs to develop a bit as a hitter, but the ball jumps off his bat and he’s shown good power potential.
As an overall athlete, though, Flower is a steal. He played wide receiver on varsity towards the end of the season last year for the Cougars, and will play that position for them this coming fall. He can track balls down very well in center field and has great range, which allows him to help a team even if his offense sags from time to time.
“I’ve always played football, as well as baseball, but I always knew that I wanted to play baseball at the next level,” Flower said. “It’s definitely pretty tough, but my football coach is pretty understanding, and I always went to games over practice. If I had baseball practice and a football scrimmage, I’ll go to the scrimmage, and if I have a baseball game, I’ll skip football practice.”
Working out in both sports will only help Flower, saving his arm in the offseason and building up his strength, while keeping him flexible. It’s a story the Bears have seen before, in current starting outfielders Devin Pearson and Aaron Knapp -- the two best, and arguably fastest, players on the team.
Like Pearson and Knapp, part of the allure of Cal for Flower was getting to make his mark close to home.
“I liked the proximity to my house, so my parents and family can come watch me play. A couple of my good friends from my high school team are already going there, and a bunch of kids from my summer team are going to or already at Pac-12 schools, and it’s going to be awesome to play against them,” Flower said.
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