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40 in 40: Chris Flexen

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Every team has Chris Flexens. But the Mariners might have a Chris Flexen.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I don’t want to beat around the bush. Mikey Ajeto did a sterling scouting report on Chris Flexen at the time of his signing which you can read right here. Here’s the Cliffs Notes: after struggling with the Mets for a few years, Flexen dominated the Korean Baseball Organization in 2020 with some adjustments to his arsenal that made him an archetypal modern pitcher, working four-seams high and a near 12-6 curve low, as well as a solid hard slider and fading changeup.

Here’s what that looked like when Flexen was on his game in full:

If you watch that clip to its completion, you’ll see Flexen roaring with pride and joy, exulting the crowd and his teammates to join in his dominance. It’s the type of fire that endears a player to fans, who typically prefer the players to seem as invested in the game as they are, but it’s more than that for someone like Flexen. The former 14th round pick got a bonus worthy of a top 10 rounder, built himself into an intriguing prospect, and yet hit his head against a wall three years in a row in the bigs before taking the journey across the Pacific. Every big league organization has a prospect like Flexen, or several in recent memory. Players who show most of a big league profile but can’t quite stick, yet can’t fully be written off. Flexen is now one of the Mariners locks for a rotation spot this April, yet there are always Chris Flexens, on the fringes of rosters, waiting to emerge from their chrysalises or crumble back into the loam, feeding the next of their kind.

A recent Seattle Mariners Flexen was RHP Erasmo Ramírez. Despite being overshadowed by more prominent prospect compatriots, Ramírez made it to the majors at just 22 years old, much like Flexen himself did at 23 despite missing parts of two seasons with Tommy John surgery. Ramírez showed flashes, but struggled to overpower big league hitters, and his stuff played less explosively than it had in the minors, forcing him to nibble at the corners, increasing his walk rate, and ultimately inflating his ERA and peripherals out of a rotation role. And yet, in Mariners land, many of us still saw flashes. We’d seen the best of Erasmo, and knew like a sculptor sees art within a stone, the big league pitcher simply had to be freed from his current limitations. Others were fed up, having seen enough to be glad when he was dealt to the Rays. Mets fans have ridden the same wave with Flexen, just as Phillies fans have with Vince Velasquez, as Rangers fans have with Nick Martínez, as Rockies fans have with Chad Bettis, and on and on.

I do not mention this to be flippant about Flexen’s prospects in 2021 and 2022 for the Mariners. He’ll enter the season as potentially the rotation’s only righty, with promising stuff and a clear opportunity. Can Flexen break free of the fringe starter lull, drifting between AAA, MLB, and international leagues? Most teams can point to dozens of examples of players who didn’t shake off their limitations, but Flexen is saying all the right things. His conditioning is improved. He’s bought in to the six-man rotation and Seattle’s coaching staff. The 26 year old has a shot to stick, but a guaranteed deal for two years and $4.75 million only brought him so far off the razor’s edge. He’s made every effort to become an exception, and this year he’ll get his chance to show it.