The 2017 international class is deep in talent. In Venezuela, the best prospect this year is Daniel Flores.
A 16-year-old switch-hitter, Flores is a strong, physical player (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) who draws superlative reviews for his outstanding defensive skills and at times has shown high-level offensive performance as well.
Picking who deserves to be ranked the No. 1 prospect in the entire class isn’t as easy as it was last year with Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, who signed with the Braves for $4.25 million and was the consensus No. 1 player in the class. For the 2017-18 international signing period, which opens on July 2, the two players many scouts have at the top of their lists this year are Flores and Dominican shortstop Wander Franco.
Here is the case for Flores, who trains with Jose Salas and is expected to sign with the Red Sox.
It doesn’t take long watching Flores to realize what scouts love about him.
“He’s the best defensive catcher I’ve ever seen at that age,” said one international director.
He’s not alone. Scouts who loathe hyperbolic, sensationalized reports heap enormous praise on Flores’ skill behind the plate.
“Defensively,” said a second scout, “the stuff he was doing behind the plate with his receiving, exchange, footwork, pop times—I’ve never seen that out of an international amateur catcher. It was very polished.”
The average major league catcher’s pop time—from when the ball hits the catcher’s mitt to when it hits the middle infielder’s glove at second base—is 2.0 seconds. Flores gets the ball to second base with times in the 1.8s, taking the ball from his glove to his right hand in a flash, then delivering power, accurate throws on the bag.
“He’s the best catch-and-throw guy I’ve ever seen,” said a third scout. “Combine that with the physical traits, the pop times in the 1.7s and 1.8s, you just don’t ever see that. He’s phenomenal. The ability on his transfer, the arm speed through the release and then the accuracy to throw low ropes, he’s really got it all defensively. Whatever you want in a catcher, he’s got it.”
Flores’ report has a lot of similarities to Austin Hedges when he came out of high school and signed with the Padres for well above slot at $3 million as a second-round pick in 2011. Except, of course, that Hedges was 18, while Flores is still 16. While Hedges hasn’t yet developed at the plate the way the Padres had hoped—and Flores has similar offensive risk—others think Flores has the upside to develop along the lines of Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
“In my years of scouting, he’s the best catch-and-throw guy I’ve ever seen. He has the best release. It’s a plus-plus catch-and-release with a plus arm. He just stands out defensively. I wouldn’t argue with you if you put him No. 1 on your list, and I didn’t even see the hitting ability that other people saw.”
Power From Both Sides
For the clubs that saw Flores perform at a high level, he was an easy pick as the top player in the class. Last summer, Flores hit well in games, showing a good balance of contact skills and power from both sides of the plate, though with a better swing from the right side. As July 2 approached, several clubs said they didn’t see that same type of dominance for Flores in games. He’s a strong, physical catcher who will flash above-average raw power, though his swing lacks rhythm and can get stiff at times. Some scouts think he would be better off hitting exclusively righthanded.
“I saw him hit in games, I saw the ability to make contact with at least average power there,” said fourth scout. “Then defensively, obviously it’s a plus arm, maybe even a 70 arm with plus receiving skills, which you really don’t see at that age. You combine big tools defensively and solid tools across the board offensively and it’s an impressive package overall.”
Added another scout: “He’s probably one of the best in recent history, defensively. His arm strength is as good as we’ve seen in recent history. And he can hit. So you’ve got a good package there behind the plate, and while Franco may be the better hitter, Flores is probably the better player overall.”
Flores is the best catcher on the international market since Gary Sanchez when he signed with the Yankees for $3 million in 2009. When Sanchez signed, he had a 70 arm, though it took him several years developing in the minor leagues to clean up his blocking and receiving. Flores has a long way to go to match what Sanchez has done early in his major league career, but he has the building blocks to develop into a centerpiece player. “He’s probably the best July 2 player I’ve ever seen,” said a sixth scout. “I saw Gary Sanchez. I saw Miguel Sano. This guy at the same age does more than those guys did. And he raked for us in games. He was always squaring balls up in the gaps.”