Every year, dozens of prospects are traded. We don’t expect much from most of them. This year, the Detroit Tigers made a trade to help their big league club, acquiring Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for a trio of prospects (the clubs also swapped draft picks). The centerpiece of the prospect package headed to Miami was Jacob Turner, one of the more well-known pitching prospects in the game. Another player in the deal was the athletic catcher Rob Brantly, who had just played in front of a national audience at the Futures Game in Kansas City. The Tigers did give up one more player, but he came with almost zero hype. That was a big lefty named Brian Flynn.
Flynn, like last week’s Prospect Profile subject, Dylan Bundy, attended Owasso High School in Sperry, Oklahoma. A natural athlete, he played basketball and baseball in high school, but he struggled to maintain his grades during his first two years. Coach Larry Turner decided to keep him in the program anyway. Flynn had yet to succeed in high school baseball, but he had shown some promise on the summer circuit, and before long, his capabilities became obvious.
Turner recalled giving a speech to his players prior to Flynn’s senior season. The team had lost talented pitchers in consecutive years and needed someone to step up. The day after Turner’s speech, he received a note. “Coach, you can count on me,” read the note. It was from Flynn. Soon, the southpaw began to believe in himself on the mound.
With his confidence came success. He committed to play baseball at Wichita State. Then the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. Flynn was obviously ecstatic, but he wasn’t ready for pro ball. “I needed to mature not just on the field, but off the field,” Flynn said. “I was willing to take the risk of going to college and coming out a more complete pitcher and hitting the ground running from there.”
That’s exactly what he’s done.
The Tigers selected the 6’8” southpaw in the seventh round of the 2011 draft. He signed early enough to make 13 starts in Low-A last year, and his off-season work ethic was enough to land him a spot in High-A to start 2012. Decent strikeout and walk rates as well as advanced feel for pitching and excellent makeup were enough to get him bumped up to Double-A.
Early in the year, Flynn’s stuff was just okay. According to one scout, he was 88-92 with his fastball, and neither of his breaking balls showed enough bite to get big leaguers to swing and miss. It didn’t hurt that his mediocre stuff was coming from the left side, but he looked more like a relief prospect who might add a mile or two to his fastball if used in short bursts.
The velocity came, and not just in short bursts. Now, according to multiple evaluators, his fastball sits in the low 90s and frequently touches 94 (and sometimes even 95). He’s using a kind of cutter/slider that he can tilt in to the back foot of right-handed hitters. He gets good downward plane on his fastball and will show a slow, big-breaking curveball early in counts. Flynn continues to work on ironing out his mechanics, a task that is often a struggle for pitchers his height. He’s shown the ability to command all of his pitches and continues to develop.
We often hear the term “if” when we talk about prospects. “If this thing happens, he can be this,” or “if he could just do this a little bit better, he might be that.” Brian Flynn is no exception. If he can continue to develop each of his pitches and his mechanics, several evaluators think he can become a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. And if he can’t, he still probably has a future as a back-end starter, a long man, or a solid lefty out of a bullpen.
The Tigers are going to miss Flynn, whom Miami plans to send to the Arizona Fall League in October. The southpaw recalled the moment when he found out that he was taking his talents to South Beach: “I actually heard about it on Twitter.” Before the Tigers had the chance to relay the message to Flynn, beatwriters and bloggers were discussing the trade on the Internet. Detroit had just bumped Flynn up to Double-A Erie, but he never actually made it to Erie, as he met the club on the road and was traded before the end of the road trip.
Flynn’s makeup is lauded by just about everyone who knows him well. It isn’t clear in what role we’ll see him down the line, but his coachable nature and his mature approach to pitching suggest that we can count on him to become a quality major leaguer before long. Scouts will get the chance to break down Flynn in Arizona next month, where a strong showing could vault him into a more prominent place on the prospect scene.