After more than seven seasons in the Cleveland Indians' organization, Jose Flores had the opportunity to explore the free agent market this off-season. Although this won't be his first spring in a uniform other than Cleveland's, Flores will be making his regular season debut as a member of an organization other than the Indians for the first time this year.
Flores signed his first professional contract in July 2005 as a 17-year-old. He made his professional debut with the Indians in 2007, appearing in 47.2 innings for the Indians' Dominican Summer League team. Flores struggled with his command during his first professional campaign, walking 26 and striking out only 23. However, the Indians liked Flores' fastball and – with a few adjustments – he made significant progress in 2008. Repeating in the DSL, Flores posted a 2.79 ERA and a 30:17 K:BB in 38.2 innings. He didn't allow a homer and batters hit just .207 against him.
That earned Flores an opportunity in the US and he made his stateside debut in 2009 in the Arizona Rookie League. Although his ERA jumped to 4.55, Flores once again showed flashes of a good fastball and he struck-out nearly a batter an inning (25 in 27.2 innings). He continued to make mechanical adjustments that off-season, and those adjustments paid off in a big way in 2010.
Suiting up for a full-season affiliate for the first time, Flores burst onto the prospect scene in 2010 with a dominant season for Low-A Lake County of the Midwest League. Pitching exclusively as a reliever, Flores posted a 2.14 ERA. He struck-out 51 and walked only seven in 42 innings. Midwest League batters hit only .224 against him and he allowed just one homerun.
Despite having pitched only one season above the Rookie-ball level, Flores was the second player picked in the 2010 Rule 5 draft. The Seattle Mariners took a flier on the then-21-year-old, bringing him into their big league camp for a closer look. Not surprisingly, given Flores' lack of experience pitching at higher levels, the Mariners elected not to keep Flores on their 25-man roster at the end of spring training. He was offered back to the Indians for half of what the Mariners paid to draft him in the Rule 5, and the Indians gladly reclaimed the rights to Flores.
As often is the case with prospects selected in the Rule 5 draft that are returned to their original organization, Flores struggled in 2011. Pitching in the High-A Carolina League, Flores' ERA jumped to 6.02 and batters hit .302 against him. He did post a respectable 49:19 K:BB and he allowed just two homeruns, so there were signs that he was due for a better season in 2012.
The Indians had Flores repeat the Carolina League to start the 2012 season. The right-hander had significantly better success his second time through the league. His ERA was a sparkling 2.37 and he saved 15 games. Flores didn't allow a homer and his K:BB was 35:13 in 38 innings. Flores received a promotion to Double-A in late July. He appeared in just six games for the Akron Aeros because of injury, however. Flores was a minor league free agent after the 2012 season, but he elected to re-sign with the Indians for the 2013 campaign.
Flores returned to Double-A Akron at the start of the 2013 season, and he would spend the entire year with the Aeros. Serving as the team's closer for much of the year, Flores saved a career-high 16 games. He also established a career-best for innings pitched with 66.1. He posted a 2.71 ERA and had an 87:27 K:BB. Flores allowed just one homerun.
The native of Venezuela spent some of the off-season pitching for the Magallanes of the Venezuelan Winter League. He signed with the A's on a minor league deal with an invite to big league spring training.
Flores has an unusual throwing motion. The big-bodied right-hander turns his back almost entirely to the batter in the middle of his motion. That movement creates significant deception and that deception makes Flores' 90-92 MPH fastball look significantly harder. His fastball is ‘heavy', generally sitting in the bottom half of the strike-zone. He is a groundball pitcher and he has allowed just nine homeruns in 322.1 career innings.
Going into the 2013 season, Flores' fastball was far-and-away his best pitch. Although it is still his best offering, Flores made significant improvements to his slider and he added an effective change-up last season.
Although Flores struggled with his command early in his career, he has been very effective at throwing strikes since 2010. He has been a reliever throughout his career. Despite being in the pros for more than seven years, Flores won't turn 25 until early June.
Given the depth of the A's bullpen, it would take a spate of injuries this spring for Flores to make the Oakland bullpen out of spring training. However, a strong spring should earn him a spot on a Triple-A roster for the first time. The A's haven't been shy about promoting relievers from Triple-A during the year, so a good impression on A's major league staff this spring could go a long way for Flores during the season.
Through Tuesday, Flores had two appearances with the A's this spring. The first was poor (one hit and three walks in one-third of an inning), but he threw a clean inning in his second outing.