The Road to The Show™: Tigers’ Flores
Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at third-ranked Tigers prospect Wilmer Flores. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here. It seems like only a matter of time before
Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at third-ranked Tigers prospect Wilmer Flores. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here.
It seems like only a matter of time before Wilmer Flores joins Wilmer Flores in the Major Leagues.
One is Wilmer De Jesus Flores, the Tigers' No. 3 prospect who is currently navigating his second stint with Double-A Erie; the other is his older brother, Wilmer Alejandro Flores, a Major League veteran currently playing first base for the Giants.
As he enters his second full Minor League season, the younger Flores has some work to do before he can join his brother in the bigs. He’s coming off a brilliant 2022 season in which he was named the Tigers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, but some durability concerns popped up at the end of the year.
Flores gets a lot out of his 6-foot-4 frame and can touch 99 mph with his four-seamer, which usually sits at 94-95 mph. He spots the heater well, as he showed in 2022, and has advanced command overall. His high-spinning, downer curveball has been his best off-speed pitch, yielding a lot of grounders or swing and miss. Flores also throws a cutter and a changeup, which are both a work in progress.
“It is amazing to see,” Erie manager Gabe Alvarez told MiLB.com in November. “Sometimes he could go out there and just use the fastball to get swings and misses. He could throw a whole inning and just punch out the side going off fastballs and then come back and do the same throwing all breaking balls. He has that type of stuff.”
The 22-year-old returned for a second tour of the Eastern League to start 2023. He made 19 starts at the level last year and was effective enough, by any metric, to warrant a spot in the Triple-A Toledo rotation. But Detroit opted to staff the Mud Hens with veterans who could jump to the Majors in a pinch.
While the Tigers weren’t aggressive in his assignment, Flores is showing that he might benefit from more seasoning in Double-A. He’s had an uneven start to the season, entering the week with a 7.17 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 21 ⅓ innings. But most of his struggles can be accounted for in back-to-back clunkers in which he allowed 13 runs in 4 ⅓ total innings.
Fortunately for Flores, he has a brother who can impart some wisdom.
“[I tell him] just be willing to fail,” the elder Flores said to MLB.com in April. “Because you’re going to fail a lot in this game. Physically, he’s got it all. Just teach him that not every outing is going to be good. Even if you’re good, you’re not going to go out there every time and throw seven innings and dominate every outing. Just keep that in mind.”
The younger Flores couldn’t follow the same path to professional baseball as his brother, who signed with the Mets as an international amateur out of Valencia, Venezuela, when he was 16. The Giants’ Flores, who is nearly 10 years older, remembers his younger brother dealing with arm issues and not getting the same attention from scouts when most international prospects get discovered at 14 or 15 years old.
But with his brother’s help, Flores was able to come stateside to gain a second opportunity to perform in front of scouts at the college level in 2020. He attended Arizona Western College in Yuma, the same school that helped jumpstart the careers of Bengie Molina and Sergio Romo.
Flores was impressive in a small sample before the pandemic prematurely ended the college season. He whiffed 16 and walked 12 in 11 2/3 innings over six outings but caught the eye of Tigers scout Joey Lathrop. When he went unselected in the five-round 2020 Draft, Detroit made an offer, and Flores signed for the maximum bonus of $20,000.
Flores made his Minor League debut with a rough outing in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League the following June, but proved ready for full-season ball after just three starts. He stayed in the rotation with Single-A Lakeland for the remainder of the year and had a strong finish. Over his final eight starts with the Flying Tigers, Flores pitched to a 2.32 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 42 ⅔ innings.
His Florida State League breakout made him a candidate to rise through the Minors quickly, and he backed up that assertion at the start of 2022. Flores posted a 1.83 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 19 ⅔ innings in six starts with High-A West Michigan before advancing to Erie in May.
Flores dealt with some fatigue concerns as the SeaWolves reached the Eastern League championship series, but he was excellent overall in his first run with Erie, earning Tigers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors and participating in the Futures Game. He had a stretch of seven starts from June to August in which he allowed two earned runs, including a scoreless streak of 16 ⅔ innings. Overall, he finished with a 3.01 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 85 ⅔ innings with the SeaWolves.
Flores' return to Double-A for 2023 shouldn’t negate the possibility that he debuts in the Majors this season. Figuring out a way to eliminate or work through his fatigue issue will be an important part of any future success in the Majors -- especially with an organization that, in recent years, has dealt with a number of highly touted young pitchers struggling to avoid the injured list.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.