Pittsburgh Pirates: A Day in the Life of a Minor Leaguer With J.C. Flowers
By Cody Potanko
In the 13th installment of ‘A Day in the Life of a Minor Leaguer’ I had the pleasure to sit down with former Florida State pitcher, and current Pittsburgh Pirates prospect, J.C. Flowers
The 2019 draft for the Pittsburgh Pirates was a very fruitful one, especially in the pitching department. In 17 out of the possible 40 rounds saw the Pittsburgh Pirates select a pitcher. In lucky number 13 of “A Day in the Life of a Minor Leaguer,” I spoke with one of those pitchers – J.C. Flowers.
Flowers is a native Floridian and even spent his college years in Tallahassee playing for the Seminoles. But for the people who aren’t familiar with him personally, I asked him, who is J.C Flowers? He responded, “I’m a hardworking guy who likes to put others first.” The one word he used to describe himself as “Selfless,” and if you heard the way he spoke, it seemed to be the case.
Everyone in their lives has some sort of spark or inspiration to do what they do and do it with conviction. I asked J.C, who was that spark in his life that drove him to play baseball?
“My dad he was the one who got me introduced to the game, and I fell in love with it ever since. I started when I was around four and just fell in love with it.” It’s always nice to see a father and son find that connection, especially if it’s for the love of America’s pastime.
Within the game, especially for players, they make that connection with not just teammates but with their coaches. I was wanting to know if Flowers had that pleasure of not just having a coach but a role model as well. “I would say my college coach Mike Martin. His wisdom of the game and gave me so much knowledge of the game. He was like a grandfather figure to me.” Those moments in a young ballplayer’s life are so crucial on multiple levels, especially in the college game.
The final inspiration I wanted to know for Flowers was what player did he watch growing up did he look up to and want to model his game after.
“Growing up as a shortstop, I’d say Derek Jeter was my idol.” Even though Jeter played for the hated Yankees, it’s hard to hate a guy like that, and Flowers is just another example of how the former great shortstop impacted the game for the younger generation on and off the field.
For those of you who pay attention to the entirety of the MLB draft like myself, I noticed that Flowers had been drafted before. He was drafted in 2016 by one of the Pittsburgh Pirates biggest rivals, the Cincinnati Reds in the 18th round. Instead of signing with Cincy, he decided to go to Florida State and attend college. He then was drafted in the 4th round last year by the Pittsburgh Pirates, so I wanted to know what that was like hearing his name called last year?
“That was a very emotional thing to go through. Just to see how my hard work paid off, and I was able to persevere and get that 4th round pick.”
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Let me tell you he’s not lying when he said he was a hard worker. In his final season at Florida State, Flowers wore multiple hats by playing as a pitcher and as an outfielder. As a hitter, he had a .266/.371/.498 slash line, and as a pitcher, he posted a 1.69 ERA in 23 games played. He is indeed a hard working and talented young player.
Speaking of wearing multiple hats, I wanted to know what it was like to both pitch and hit during his college days. “It was cool just to be able to do it again. All my life I pretty much pitched, hit and played the field. So it wasn’t anything new, but I was glad I was able to do it again and do it well. That’s the main thing is being able not just to do both but to do it well.”
Some might crumble or just not live up to the hype when it comes to multi-tasking on the field, but Flowers, in my opinion, performed above and beyond the call of duty in Tallahassee.
Jumping into his professional career and more specifically with the Pittsburgh Pirates short-season affiliate, the West Virginia Black Bears, I wanted to know the main thing he took away from that season was.
“The main thing about West Virginia was my new role as a starter. I had to get used to getting ready in between my starts and having to have a routine. It matured me more because I had to do it on my own there was no coach telling me I need to do this and no nutritionist telling me I need to eat this. It was definitely growing pains.”
One of the most underappreciated subjects in regards to baseball is the mental side of the game, and you see some players struggle with it. I wanted to see if Flowers had to deal with that during last year with West Virginia. “For sure like I said, getting used to that new role and there were a lot of struggles. There was a lot of me wishing I was playing every day like I was in college, and it took a toll on me mentally. I think, though, if you have the right support system and if you believe in yourself, you can always persevere and get through things.”
Those support systems can come from a plethora of places, and for a young ballplayer, it might come from his own clubhouse, on top of his immediate family. Wanting to know if that was the case for him, I asked how that West Virginia clubhouse was behind closed doors. “When I first got there, I could tell there was a comradery between the guys. You could tell that these guys have spent a good amount of time together, and it was close.”
One of the most respected men in all of baseball is a coach by the name of Tom Filer. With Flowers being another pitcher to go into the graces of Filer, I wanted to know what it was like to have him as your pitching coach.
“It was definitely an honor to have Files (Tom Filer) as my pitching coach. You can tell he’s an old school roughneck kind of guy. When he gets his point across, he gets his point across, and it was cool to see. I have never had a coach like that, and it was great to have him on the staff.”
Some of the pitchers that I have spoken to have had the opportunity to call upon some high school or college catchers to get some work in. Unfortunately, Flowers has been unable to find one as of yet but did tell me, “I’ve been playing catch and doing some other things.” So if you’re in the Florida area and want to catch Flowers pitches and have your own version of social distancing you know what to do.
He also added that his arsenal of pitches right now he is content with keeping the same and doesn’t want to add to it right now. He throws a four-seam circle change and a slider. “I’ve been just trying to fine-tune everything and seeing what works best for me right now.” Well, sir, I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Now here comes the fun part for me. I asked Flowers like I ask every other pitcher what their go-to pitch was if it was bases loaded, two outs, and a full count.
“I’d have to go fastball. I feel like, at the end of the day, the pressure is on the batter. He has to put the ball in play, among other things. My job is to throw the ball across the plate.” He did mention his favorite pitch to throw in The Show was high heat, so there is your answer.
As of now, the plan for Flowers is to have him continue to be a starter and get him to Low-A Greensboro for his first full season professional baseball. He reaffirmed to me that he is happy that he is a starter. “The plan for me is to get me innings and establish me as a starter. Being a starter was presented to me, and ran with it. As time went on, I got more comfortable with my routine and getting ready in between starts.”
The most important question of the night was whether he was an XBOX or a PlayStation guy. He was the first one who didn’t throw me for a loop and answered what I hoped he would with PlayStation. When and if there is a season, I sure hope we get the chance to see the young hurler from Jacksonville have plenty of quality starts and, most importantly, the “K Strut.”