Flores teaches the newest prospects

Jose Flores' first year on the job went well – so well that the Padres have contemplated expanding his role for the 2008 season. We caught up with Flores to discuss his experiences and many of the young players to come through Eugene, including Luis Durango, Kellen Kulbacki, Danny Payne, and Mitch Canham.

It wasn't that long ago that you were playing baseball. How did this all come about and what are the feelings now that you have a year under your belt?

Jose Flores: I just finished playing last year in Fresno with the Giants organization. As far as coaching goes, I have been contemplating it for four years. Every time I said I was going to retire, I ended up having a good year and didn't want to retire on a good note. Not that I am a frontrunner that way – I felt this year was my year to move forward and make the transition to coaching.

It has been in the books for me. Everyone I talked to said I could be a good coach. I had a lot of fun.

Everyone always asked if I miss it. One of the biggest battles was I wanted to make sure I was ready to do this. To be honest, I don't miss it. I don't miss the 0-fer days and the mental preparation you have to go through each day to go out there and perform to your highest ability.

As far as teaching and watching these young guys come up, it has been a big thrill for me. I can sit back and remember my first year in rookie ball with Batavia in 1994. I forgot that there are a lot of mistakes and you have to have a lot of patience. If I learned anything it is to have more patience.

Have you been surprised by anything you have seen or how you have reacted along the way?

Jose Flores: In Spring Training a lot of the coaches would tell me while you thought you knew a lot as a player, once you get to this side there is still a lot to learn in this game.

I had a great mentor in Greg Riddoch. I couldn't have asked for a better manager to be under to learn and experience what you need to know. I have the best mentor anyone in baseball could ask for.

This is the first step for many of these kids – you hold their future in your hands. How comfortable were you with that?

Jose Flores: I try not to look at it so much as me being a big impact. My thing is to lay the groundwork – give them an idea of what is to come as they move up, situational-wise.

I am not a guy that wants to change things. You are here for a reason and were drafted. If I think a thing will need tweaking or minor adjustment, we will do that. You have to let them go out there and play and get a taste of things their first year so they can get their feet wet and understand what professional baseball is like.

I feel like these guys are at an advantage because I just finished playing and everything is still fresh to me. I have that baseball player mentality because I just finished playing. I find myself wanting to give that to them – I don't want to put so much pressure on them. Hitting a baseball is hard enough as it is. By me telling them stuff is more confusing. I don't want to put too many things in their minds to get some of that stress off of them.

I am more of a person they can talk to. I learned a lot more about hitting from talking about, and not everyone is like that, than going out there and going through the motions. Talking to older players helped because it gave me a better understanding of what they were trying to teach. I am using that scheme to see if it works for some people. You have 25 players and have to adjust to each and everyone. Some of them might be better off talking or showing or doing certain drills. I try and be there for everybody and give the same amount of time and respect.

Have you noticed the changing philosophies between the organizations you have been with and what you are teaching versus what you were doing as a baseball player?

Jose Flores: I think I fit well with this organization and plan, the patiently aggressive hitter. The beginning of my career – I didn't find myself until after seven years of being a professional baseball player. That is when my career took off. A lot of players don't have seven years to give. You do it now or they are going to look for someone else. I was fortunate and I became that patiently aggressive guy. This organization is preaching that because they feel on-base percentage will accumulate runs and gets guys on for those who drive them in. Without having people on base and creating something on offense – we won't have that scheme.

I found that I wasn't so afraid to hit behind in the count. I was better off starting the count 0-2. I was always a leadoff hitter and had to see more pitches to try and get on base and for the rest of my team to see pitches. I fit that mold. It is easier for me to explain. You don't have to be nervous. Sooner or later you have to learn how to hit when behind in the count. If I can teach at this level they will have a better understanding as they go up and see better pitching. If we can lay the groundwork...

I want to get them clicking right away. I feel the anxiousness in myself and have to settle down.

Is there anyone in Arizona you thought could be in Eugene?

Jose Flores: You had Carvajal and Carrasco – both who came up. You had Valdez who is a real young guy with good talent. I like him a lot. He has some thump in his bat. It will take him some time to understand how to play in the US.

It might take them a little longer to know and feel they fit in. They might get overwhelmed. Every individual is different for the transition. Are they prepared for it?

Everything in this game comes so fast and goes away quick. There will be a time and place when they have to step up and deliver.

Carvajal doesn't understand the strike zone like he needs to. He has all the pop in the world. He has all the drive you could ask for. He needs to make the little adjustments in knowing what pitches to swing at. He has all the promise in the world.

It seems Luis Durango knows where the ball is going to be hit each time he gets up to the plate.

Jose Flores: He surprised me like nobody else would. I had him in extended and could see there was something special in him.

My problem was he didn't look like he knew what he was doing at times. I wondered how he could go up there and make simple mistakes here. As he was in Eugene it was night and day. There was more pep in his step, more desire to do well.

I did find myself repeating myself to Luis. He had to hear things on a daily basis for him to get it and stick with it.

He is starting to understand and it is benefiting him. It is an exciting thing to watch. He makes things happen.

Is Danny Payne simply too patient at this stage?

Jose Flores: He describes our philosophy. I am trying to get him off of that because he does take fastballs he can hit. He is highly talented and is taking it too overboard where he takes a fastball in a hitters count when I know he can do some damage.

He is a guy I am expecting big things from. As soon as he turns the corner, he is going to be someone to deal with.

When you take a lot of pitches, it takes away from your aggressiveness. When I would walk four walks in a game – I would tell myself I am tired of walking. I think he gets into that mode and begins chasing outside of the strike zone and getting himself out.

He said in Spokane at the end of the year, ‘I am just taking what they give me.'

That is good because some guys get anxious and start getting away from their plan and chasing pitches. He started doing things differently with his mechanics. He got away from the approach of looking for a pitch he can handle and drive. When he gets into the passive mode – there comes a time and a place when you do take pitches and you don't. I think he is in-between.

I think he will be someone to reckon with.

What did you see out of Kellen Kulbacki this season?

Jose Flores: Kulbacki – I expect a lot of things from him. He has some thump in his bat. I don't know how much of a toll it takes when you come from college. I didn't notice it so much because all I wanted to do was play. There is a transition where they need some rest.

He was off to a slow start and wasn't as consistent early on. He came around and took good swings down the stretch. He needs some tuning up and finding himself and what he is looking for.

Kulbacki will be something to reckon with.

Mitch Canham came to you and had this sort of stutter-step in with his front foot that seemed to sap his power. Did you show him that?

Jose Flores: Mitch has some thump in his bat.

I brought it to his attention real early. I could see it in BP. I showed him some video – he didn't feel that when he was up there. Watching the video – that can't lie. That helped.

Every time he is tapping his weight was moving forward so he had nothing to hit with. Every time he swings the bat he cuts himself off because he has no leverage to go on.

I started him a little earlier with his load and starting him forward with one tap instead of four or five and his body is shifting at the same time. I tried to slow him down so his hands were going back and his front foot tapped once and continued forward. It will help him drive through the ball as opposed to getting out there quick and cutting himself off. I know he can hit balls to all parts of the field and this will help him.


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