READING, PA.—Yohan Flande signed with the Phillies as a relative unknown. Flande still flies under the radar, though the lefty with Double-A Reading is starting to change that with his selection to the Futures Game on Sunday.
“Last year, (the organization) knew who I was but nobody like this. That was my goal this year, let everybody know,” Flande said through a translator. “I want people to notice me and see what I’ve got; I can pitch.”
Flande, 23, first showed the Phillies that he could pitch in 2004. As a lanky 18-year-old in La Romana in the Dominican Republic, Flande impressed Phillies international scouting director Sal Agostinelli with his live arm.
Agostinelli decided to take a chance on Flande, thinking he might turn out to be more than met the eye.
"He’s the kind of guy you sign a bunch of and hope you get lucky," Agostinelli recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
After spending three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Flande finally made his U.S. debut last year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Flande opened this season with high Class A Clearwater and went 7-1, 2.52, good enough to earn a spot on the Florida State League all-star team and a promotion to Reading.
“I feel like the game has come easy to me, because I like it and have fun,” Flande said.
But through two starts at Double-A, Flande’s numbers haven’t been where he wants them. They’ve also been slightly inflated. In his first start, Flande allowed five runs in the second inning, but in the other five innings did not allow a run. In his second start, Flande surrendered five earned runs, two of which came on first-and-third steals, and two as inherited runners after he left the game.
In his second appearance, Flande said he lost control and wasn’t able to hit his spots. He said that he was throwing more three-quarters than usual, and he likes to be over-the-top with his arm action. Still, he’s naturally a fluid and effortless pitcher with a slight arm angle that creates late life on his fastball.
Flande is 6-foot-2, 170-pounds and sits at 88-90 mph with his fastball, though it touches 92-93. But his low-80s changeup is his best pitch.
“It is going to be a big league pitch for him—that’s his bread and butter,” Reading pitching coach Steve Schrenk said. “It’s a good pitch but he needs to use it.”
Of Flande’s 102 pitches on Sunday in a 12-5 loss to Connecticut, 26 were changeups. He threw 62 strikes and 40 balls, while getting ahead of 16 of the 28 hitters he faced with a first-pitch strike. He works fast, and likes to dictate the tempo of the game.
Flande also throws an offspeed pitch that he calls a curveball and Schrenk calls a slider—it isn’t too sharp and isn’t too loopy. Either way, Flande just started throwing the pitch recently and Schrenk called it a “work in progress.”
Flande’s delivery and arm action are similar to those of current Phillies lefthander Antonio Bastardo. But Schrenk compared Flande’s repertoire to a player he worked with in 2004.
“He throws his changeup a lot like Cole Hamels does,” Schrenk said. “And Cole has good fastball command too, and, well, his breaking ball has gotten better. Our big thing in the organization is fastball command, and then we go changeup, then we go to the breaking pitch. He’s at that stage where we need to start working on the slider a little bit more”
Flande said his favorite pitcher to watch is Johan Santana, another lefthander who thrives off his changeup.
“It was time for a different challenge for him at this level,” Schrenk said. “I’m looking for him to get better, and by the end, he’ll be better than when he got here.”
It’s been a long road for Flande, but he’s still working on the little things, the technical side of the game that often goes unnoticed—holding runners, fielding his position, knowing how to set hitters up. Flande didn’t know where to go on those first-and-third steals with two outs against Connecticut, and looked unnatural fielding a bunt later in the game. Aside from baseball, Flande is trying to adjust to the new culture and is trying to learn a new language. But it’s Flande’s work ethic that makes the biggest difference.
“He’ll do anything I ask him to do,” Schrenk said. “He’s trying to get to the big leagues. He’s eager to learn and he knows his mistakes.”
Those mistakes are what Flande hopes to use to his advantage. He called himself a student of the game, hoping to learn as much as possible. He wouldn’t attribute his success in baseball to one personl, but rather said all of his pitching coaches have taught him something new that he can benefit from.
“I want to know the batters and know how to approach the game, learn the game,” Flande said. “I want to get smarter. That’s the key, listen to the coaches and work hard.”
Now, Flande is in a position to make himself known. Philadelphia knew he had a good arm and solid stuff, but opted to err on the side of caution with his development.
“There’s a lot more to it other than going out there and throwing the ball, and that’s what he’s learning now,” Schrenk said.