Flores determined to rise to the occasion, grow in ’24

February 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck's Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The good news for Tigers pitching prospect is that he has finally made a name for himself, no pun intended, instead of being known primarily as the younger brother of the Giants infielder by the same name. Now comes the tougher part: How will he take the next step and become a Major Leaguer in his own right?

Flores took his lumps last season after entering the year among the Tigers’ top pitching prospects (No. 7 overall) and cracking MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list at No. 95. After posting a 2.79 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie in 2022, seemingly putting him on a path to Detroit, Flores posted a 4.65 ERA and 9.1 K/9 between the same stops last year before a hamstring injury ended his season. His 22-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 18 innings in the Arizona Fall League helped salvage a better ending.

Throughout the struggles, however, were points when Flores battled through trouble, getting outs with the pitches he had working that day. Some games, it was the curveball that he located around different parts of the zone. Other times, he reared back and challenged hitters with fastballs that played up. Other games, he leaned on the slider, or some combination.

That determination is evident when Flores is asked if he has something to prove in his first Major League camp.

“Be ready to play in the big leagues,” he said. “That's all that matters.”

The Tigers want to tap into that determination. Manager A.J. Hinch is laying out the challenge.

“We’re looking for him to pound the strike zone,” Hinch said. “The difference between Wilmer when he has been good in the Minors and Wilmer when he struggled has been count leverage. He has weapons, he has demeanor, he has some aggressiveness to his approach. Have to get him to use it inside that box, the strike zone.

“I think he’s going to learn a lot [in this camp]. He feels like he should have been here before this, the 40-man [roster] selection. And he would’ve been, had he thrown more strikes. And I think that challenge is all you really need to give him. Wilmer is going to go and tackle it and work to refine his skills.”

Some of that work has already taken place. Flores said he has tried to improve the shape of his curveball, while getting his slider more consistently in the strike zone.

Flores’ fastball has been a point of emphasis since early last season. When he’s on, it’s a power pitch, approaching the upper 90s at times. Other times last year, the fastball sat in the low 90s. He seemed to turn a corner with it last summer before the hamstring injury halted his progress.

“We're looking for velo improvement,” Flores said, “but also just throwing strike one.”

He should get some chances to do that in camp. It won’t get him on the Opening Day roster, but a solid Spring Training should put him back on a trajectory for a long-awaited promotion to Triple-A Toledo and a potential call-up during the season.

Flores just turned 23 years old on Tuesday.

“He’s closer than he thinks, meaning that we haven’t forgotten about him,” Hinch said. “We added him to the roster for a reason.”