12-28-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
In Ben Cherington’s first draft as General Manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he followed his first round choice of Nick Gonzalez by selecting five right handed pitcher in a row. Among them were a two-way high school player, a former middle infielder turned reliever and a JUCO Bandit with a limited innings count. At the time statements were made concerning Cherington’s inclination to focus on talented athletes, including some who also happened to be pitchers with minimal miles on their arms. Then this past season he went on to scoop up Bubba Chandler, another two-way player, who was also a four star quarterback recruit for the Clemson Tigers, as well as Penn State Football wide receiver commit OF Lonnie White, Jr., which put a little bit of a punctuation mark on the original assessment from a year ago.
With each of these picks the reputation of the Pirates new GM was bolstered, however, contrary to the belief held by some, targeting these types of players is not the invention from the mind of Cherington. This isn’t to say am not happy with the choices he has made, it’s just that we shouldn’t go around pretending like he’s the one who created fire.
If you don’t believe me all you have to do is go back exactly one year to then General Manager Neil Huntington’s last draft with Pittsburgh. In the first round he selected a right-handed high school pitcher that once was considered to be the future quarterback of Northwestern University, along with the ace of the baseball team’s staff. Of course that was before he fully dedicated himself to his work on the mound. Then in the fourth round the Pirates selected a centerfielder from Florida State, who had exactly 26.2 innings pitched at the collegiate level on his resume. Why you ask? Because he regularly pumps it up to 97 mph on the gun with his fastball, just like he did in high school when the Cincinnati Reds originally picked him in the 18th Round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
For the first two games of his professional career J.C. Flowers performed a familiar role by coming out of the bullpen once and filling in as an opener for the West Virginia Black Bears in Short-Season A Ball. However, his next seven appearances would come as regular part of the rotation; ultimately building up to five innings in his final start of the season. Still, as could have been reasonably expected, this transition was not without some growing pains. On the year Flowers posted a 4.30 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP, while striking out 24, walking 11 and surrendering 5 homers in only 29.1 innings of work.
Entering the 2021 I was extremely interested to see if Flowers would return to a full-time reliever role, or if the new Pirates regime would attempt to build upon Huntington and Crew’s plan to see if they could make a starter out of this project player. In the beginning it looked like this idea had been scrapped in favor of a long relief and/or set-up role, yet once again, after several appearances he found himself back in the rotation; this time as a member of the Low-A Bradenton Marauders, which went a lot smoother than the previous transition. Over six games-two of them starts-and in 17 innings, Flowers posted a 2.12 ERA, a .824 WHIP and a 23 K to 3 BB ratio.
In the short term this level of success would continue as Flowers was promoted to High-A Greensboro in the beginning of June. That month he pitched another 18 innings, walked only batter and put up a 1.50 ERA and a .722 WHIP, but saw his K/9 drop to only 6.5. Unfortunately, the next couple of months were fairly rough as his ERA rose to 5.69 and his WHIP ballooned to 1.711, although some of this can be explained away by a ridiculous .435 BABIP and the potentially negative effect of the Grasshoppers home ballpark-double the ERA.
So, not all good and not all bad, but most regrettably without a way to conduct a clear assessment as to what the future will hold for this former centerfielder; which makes 2022 all the more important for J.C. Flowers.
For his sake I hope it comes with a promotion to Altoona, in an attempt to eliminate any factors beyond his control.