J.C. Flowers has been an underrated arm for the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system, but what role could he serve in the future?
J.C. Flowers is arguably the least talked about top pitching prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. Flowers has some real talent and could provide the Pirates with a quality arm in the very near future. He’s currently stationed at Double-A Altoona and may see the major leagues next season. If he does, what role could he provide the Bucs?
Flowers has pitched 68.2 innings this season, providing Altoona with a 2.88 ERA, 4.02 FIP, and 1.18 WHIP. Flowers’ 21.4% strikeout rate might not be impressive, nor is his 8.4% walk rate. But he has a ground ball rate of 56.8% and an HR/9 of 0.79. His FIP might be below average, but that’s because of a lack of Ks.
But getting strikeouts hasn’t been an issue for the last few months. Since the start of June, Flowers has had a 2.61 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and 1.03 WHIP. This is throughout 38 innings of work. Flowers’ 9.1% walk rate is an increase from his early season mark of 7.6%, but his K% of 27.3% is a quality mark. Home runs still haven’t been an issue for Flowers either, with a .49 HR/9.
Flowers has one of the best offerings in the Pirates’ system, and his slider is elite. With late downward movement, the right-hander’s breaking offering can get swings and misses easily with the pitch. It sits in the mid-to-upper-80s and has even more movement than Roansy Contreras’. Among all prospects FanGraphs ranks, Flowers is just one of just 31 arms who throws a slider that projects to be a 70-grade offering or better.
Flowers’ four-seamer sits around 92-95 MPH but can crank up the velo when needed. He has the ability to pump it through the zone at 95-97 MPH. His two-seamer also has the same velocity range. His change-up needs some improvement, but he does have the potential to harness it and make it a solid third offering. His fastball is a second quality offering projecting as a 60-grade weapon. Flowers is also one of 41 pitchers on FanGraphs’ prospect list to recieve at least a 60-projected grade for two of their pitches.
According to FanGraphs, his athleticism gives him a real chance to start, despite lacking a quality third offering. A two-way player for Florida State University, Flowers is also one of the most athletic pitchers the Pirates have. It helps his ceiling play up because he can move so well on the mound.
Though Flowers has a chance to be a starter, he hasn’t started much this year. He’s pitched chiefly out of the bullpen but in a multi-inning role. 21 of his 33 outings have lasted at least two innings. A third of his games were three innings or more. Only two of his outings have been starts.
But the Pittsburgh Pirates usage of Flowers seems to indicate they haven’t fully committed to him as a reliever. They’ve mostly used him for two or three innings at a time. For example, Tahnaj Thomas, who mostly started in previous seasons and just started to pitch out of the bullpen regularly this year, has pitched two innings 11 times and has faced more than ten batters just once. Flowers has faced 10+ batters in nearly half of his outings, 15 times to be exact.
One thing to remember is that Flowers didn’t pitch much in college. He only tossed 26.2 innings, almost all out of the bullpen for Florida. Only one of his appearances was as a starter. Between college and his professional career, he has just 21 starts. In some way, he’s still figuring out how to pitch multiple innings at a time. He’s a fairly inexperienced arm despite having such a talented arm and quality stuff.
Flowers has a chance to be one of the Pittsburgh Pirates starters next year. The Pirates wouldn’t have him pitch 2-3 innings in most of his outings if they didn’t feel he could be a starting arm. Next year, they should start him in Triple-A Indy’s rotation. If he proves he can handle the larger workload, then he should slot into the rotation by mid-summer.