Miami Marlins rookie lefty Brian Flynn made his major league debut yesterday against the Chicago Cubs, allowing three runs on six hits and three walks in four innings, fanning two. It wasn't a great game, but it comes on the heels of an excellent season in Triple-A, and more chances will certainly follow. Flynn didn't receive a huge amount of attention pre-season, but he's got talent and is today's Prospect of the Day.
Flynn pitched college baseball at Wichita State University. He showed a good arm and hit 95 MPH at times in college, but problems with command and secondary pitches resulted in mediocre statistical performances. He posted a 4.63 ERA with a 77/39 K/BB in 83 innings in his junior year in 2011, which was considered disappointing but was still enough to get him drafted in the seventh round by the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers sent him to West Michigan in the Low-A Midwest League for his debut, which went very well: 3.46 ERA, 7-2 in 13 starts, with a 57/23 K/BB in 68 innings. It was a quick adaption. He was supposed to be fairly raw as college pitchers go, but he showed more polish than expected.
Assigned to High-A Lakeland to open 2012, he went 8-4, 3.71 in 18 starts with an 84/32 K/BB in 102 innings, with 113 hits allowed. He made one start for Double-A Erie, then was traded to the Marlins as part of the Anibal Sanchez deal last summer. He finished with eight starts for Double-A Jacksonville, posting a 3.80 ERA with a 32/13 K/BB in 45 innings.
Flynn made four starts for Jacksonville to open 2013 but was way ahead of the competition, with a 25/3 K/BB in 23 innings and a 1.57 ERA. Promoted to Triple-A New Orleans, he remained very effective all summer. Although he posted a 6-11 record in 23 starts due to poor run support, his 2.80 ERA stands out, along with his 122/40 K/BB in 138 innings. Flynn led the Pacific Coast League in ERA this year and ranked sixth in strikeouts. He was the only starting pitcher who kept his ERA below 3.00.
Flynn is a big guy, listed at 6-8, 240, born April 19, 1990. From his size you'd think he throws very hard, and it is true he can hit 95-96 MPH on his best days. More commonly he works at 91-93, and he worked at 90-92 yesterday. The velocity variance has been going on since his days with the Shockers, which led some scouts to project him as a reliever when he was drafted, thinking that he'd throw at his maximum velocity more consistently in shorter stretches.
Neither the Tigers nor the Marlins made the bullpen move, however, given that he has more than just the fastball at his disposal. His best secondary pitch is his slider, but he has a curveball and a change-up as well. The curve and change were mediocre when he was drafted. He junked the curve entirely last year to concentrate on the slider and change-up, but brought the curve back this spring.
All three of his secondaries were effective weapons in Triple-A. It remains to be seen how they will play against major league hitters, of course. Despite the walks he gave up to the Cubs yesterday, Flynn's command and control are also better than they were in college.
Flynn has come a long way very quickly, going from fairly raw and somewhat disappointing college pitcher to Triple-A ace in two years. If everything works properly for Flynn, he can be a mid-rotation starter in the majors. That would require further sharpening of his command and secondary pitches, but you have to like the progress he's made so far. Worst case, he will be an effective reliever.
Fangraphs has some video of Flynn at this link, showing all four pitches. WARNING: annoying audio.