Flores on Eugene Emeralds hitting prospects

Eugene Emeralds hitting coach Jose Flores, in his first year on the job, was tasked with teaching new recruits the art of hitting. The league leader in hitting, Luis Durango, came from his stable. Justin Baum, Robbie Blauer, Luis Martinez and Mitch Canham were other names touched upon in this candid interview.

You received some experience as a manager this year and worked under Riddoch. How much have you grown from the beginning of the year into this coaching life and what signifies success?

Jose Flores: I can go on and on. I had a tremendous experience for the first year. I thought I had a couple of things going for me but I didn't know how I would be. I guess it depended on the kids I would have.

One of my biggest worries when I signed on as a coach was how are these kids going to respond to me. When I was a player I wasn't that vocal leader, I was more of a leader in how I played.

Riddoch gave me the opportunity to show myself like that and the more comfortable I was feeling, talking louder, getting my point across to the guys and letting them know from experiences I have gone through.

The more and more he gave me, the more respect I gained from him. If that is happening to me now, in my first year, then as the season goes on I began to think I could do this on the managerial side and not just a hitting coach side.

It worked out for me. I figured if I could gain their respect as a hitting coach, and gain their respect that way, it will gradually get better. I gained it from my hitters but also began to gain that respect from my pitchers as well. That made me comfortable and made me think I can do this on the managerial side, even though there are more guys to cover.

Luis Durango led the league in hitting – again. How did he grow through the year?

Jose Flores: Durango was something special. He was the life – the pulse of our team.

He got into Instructional League late and mentioned something to me that caught my ear when he said, ‘I can't believe the kind of season I had.'

I said, ‘You know what? You opened up a lot of people's eyes. No one thought it was going to be like that.'

He may have won the batting title in Arizona but the people get better as you move up. The transition I saw was he went out there and played the game from day one. He was a totally different guy than I saw in Spring Training and extended to finish out the season in Eugene and be the sparkplug that he was.

Without him, I don't think we would have been successful early on. He grew immensely. I didn't have to work a lot with him. It was more of a repeat yourself deal. You can't coach a guy hitting .370. His English, his understanding, getting comfortable with the league – that is where I helped him the most, giving him more information on how to go about the game, how to run every play out, take every day and every at bat differently.

Justin Baum had some success while he was here. What did you see from him?

Jose Flores: Outside of Keith Conlon going up, Baum was one of my surprises. A lot of guys come in here and it is there first season of pro ball and try and make that transition to a wood bat, which takes longer for some guys. Baum, at the very beginning of the season we talked to try and get him out of that aluminum style swing he had and realize when you get to that wood bat that you will never want to pick up an aluminum bat again.

I had to work with him on where he had his hands, how flat his bat was through the zone. I worked on changing his batting stance a little bit and where he had his hands at the beginning of his approach.

Right before he left he started clicking on a consistent basis. He was hitting home runs, just two behind Pickett at the time. It was hurtful to see him leave. I thought I got him to where I needed him to be on a consistent basis.

When they took him I was, ‘Oh shucks.' I learned that it is going to happen, especially at this level. We are here to develop kids so they can move on. I got caught up in it. The way he learned and listened and understood our philosophy – boom he is gone.

Robbie Blauer looks like he should be hitting for more power. While he was patient, what is the key to getting him to use his whole body to hit?

Jose Flores: He is a patient kid. He is a guy that really fits our philosophy because he takes a lot of pitches and draws a lot of walks. That being said, Robbie gained 20 pounds in two months.

How do you get a guy to hit more home runs? Maybe hit the gym a little more, pump a little more weight and try and get out of that passive mode he is in to take a lot of pitches. When you are hitting in that situation and hitting in the five-hole, you are put there for a reason and that is to drive in runs.

Since he was so much into that passive mode where he was taking pitches and drawing deep counts, when guys are on base you have to change that theory a little bit. Now is your opportunity to drive in those runs. You can't take the same approach with men on as opposed to no one on.

As you get heavier, going back to the weight issue, you get slower. His biggest thing coming into Spring Training is losing those 20 pounds he gained. He will find himself a little quicker and a little stronger with conditioning.

There are drills I learned in the Instructional League on how you get ball flight. I will hopefully be able to teach him that when he comes back.

He needs to drive the ball a little more. I think that has to do with his approach. Instead of peppering balls to left field, get ready early so you can drive balls. His power is going to be to right field – it is not going to be the opposite way. He needs to get ready early, look for the pitch middle in and drive it. In BP he does a good job of that. But it is two different things – a practice player and a game time player. Right now he fits the practice player. Yes, he can drive the ball out of the yard but come game time – it took him until the last week of the season to get his first homer. He has to trust himself and relax. He can turn on the ball and drive it out of the park. It is a matter of him getting that confidence and maturing as a hitter.

I got a chance to talk to Wizards hitting coach Bob Skube, and he mentioned Luis Martinez as a player that really stood out to him. You had him in Eugene before he was promoted – what were your impressions?

Jose Flores: When I first saw Luis I thought, ‘Wow, this is a catcher's body right here. This sticks out by just the way he looks.'

I saw him early on and liked him from the very beginning. I did know he was going to have to come a long way on both sides of the game, offensively and defensively. You can only go so far on physical appearance.

Seeing him in the Instructional League – he was a totally different player. He looks aggressive. He looked confident. He gained so much momentum behind the plate, throwing runners out and agile back there. He looked like an athlete.

He has worked hard. The only way you can get there is to work. In the two months he was up there – a completely different player.

While Mitch Canham had some injuries, he hit well. Were you able to calm down his swing with the stutter step he had?

Jose Flores: Mitch is going to be a hitter. Once he fully understands how to use his lower half, he is going to be one of these 20 to 25 homer guys in the big leagues. Right now he is nothing but upper body and hands.

One of the biggest things we were working with him on is being more patient because his hands were already quick and he is losing a lot of power with that shift – what we call leaking forward, flipping his hands. He is getting hits but as he gets older and stronger we are going to need him to drive balls and not try and pepper stuff. We have to incorporate staying back and trusting himself. He is already quick with his hands. We need for his body to stay behind that. Once he understands that he will be fine.

He also has an aluminum bat swing. If you look at it in depth, he is trying to get out there so he won't get beat inside. With a wood bat, he is trying to cheat – he coasts out in front and then his bat lags.

It is a matter of him staying back on balls, trusting his hands because his power is going to come from his lower half.

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