Phils' Flande set to play in Futures Game
Dominican pitching prospect to showcase skills for World Team
For the past year, Philadelphia Phillies southpaw Yohan Flande has been flying under the radar.
His selection to the World team for the XM All-Star Futures Game to be played in St. Louis on Sunday may put an end to that status, however.
Flande, 23, was one of two Phillies pitchers selected to participate in the game, along with U.S. team selectee Kyle Drabek.
The Dominican-born Flande opened the season with Advanced A Clearwater, earning first-half Florida State League All-Star laurels before moving up to Double-A Reading on June 30.
After reeling off 21 innings before allowing an earned run, Flande got the nod as the Phillies' Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April as he went 3-0 with an 0.38 ERA in four starts. Overall, during the first half of the season, Flande went 7-1 with a 2.52 ERA, striking out 67 batters and walking 24 in 82 innings for the Threshers.
Although his ERA in two starts at Reading is not as sparkling as his Clearwater numbers, with a 7.50 ERA in 12 innings, in each of his six-inning starts he was strong with the exception of one tough inning.
The Futures Game selection is a tribute to a young man who may be the single most popular player among Phillies farmhands and front office executives alike.
"In my 40-plus years in baseball I have never seen a more loved and respected player," said Sal Artiaga, the Phillies' director of Latin American operations. "All the players simply love him. They respect his mound presence, special work ethic and dedication."
One of the best examples of that work ethic was on display in early March when the Phillies' Minor League pitchers participate in the much-dreaded two-mile run on the backfields at the Carpenter Complex.
And while there is no prize for finishing first other than bragging rights, Flande's showing in his two outings since coming stateside from the Dominican in 2008 blew away even the most jaded of the onlookers the event draws.
If you didn't know he was a pitcher, you might think he was a seasoned marathoner, so effortless and steady does he run, easily lapping most of the other dozens of huffing and puffing pitchers.
"He has to be the best-conditioned athlete in pro baseball," Artiaga said. "Players stop and simply look on in amazement as he runs those two miles at the same pace from start to finish."
"The worst part," added Phillies Minor League pitching coordinator Gorman Heimuller with a laugh, " is he looks like he enjoys it."
That attitude sums up a lot about Flande, who signed with the Phillies as a free agent in 2004 and went on to post a combined 2.39 ERA in three seasons in the Dominican Summer League before making his US debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2008.
"What makes him so much fun is how much he enjoys what he does," said Heimuller. "It's so refreshing."
Heimuller first saw Flande pitch in the Dominican in 2006 and is the first to admit that he wasn't blown away by the left-hander's stuff at the time.
"I'm not going to lie, he wasn't someone who stood out," said Heimuller. "He was a lefty with a slight frame who threw the ball over the plate. But then he came over here last year and just kept getting better and better. He just continues to improve and improve."
In his stateside debut, Flande turned out to be the ace of a Gulf Coast League squad that ended up winning the 16-team league title, leading all Phillies Minor League pitchers with a 2.19 ERA in 10 games and limiting league batters to a .201 average, which ranked 11th among all Minor League starters. He allowed one or no earned runs in seven of his 10 outings.
This year, the decision was made to skip him past Class A Lakewood and send him right to Clearwater, with the initial plan being that he'd likely be in the Threshers bullpen. But after a Spring Training as impressive as his '08 campaign, that plan changed.
"Everyone involved decided he should remain a starter and he just ran with it," Heimuller said. "How far he's come has all come back to his desire and willingness to put in everything he has to get better."
That work ethic has certainly played a big part in his recent rise.
"No matter how far he goes," Heimuller said, "this is a guy who will never have to look in the mirror and wonder if he could have tried a little harder."
Flande's repertoire consists of a changeup, which is his best pitch, a fastball that hovers around 90, and a slider that is still a work in progress but is much improved from this time last year.
What also rates as plus tools are his coachability and instincts on the mound, his ability to mix up his sequences and his command.
"He's been able to command his fastball to both sides of the plate and once he establishes that he keeps hitters off-balance with a very good changeup which, with his arm speed, looks like a fastball to the hitters," Heimuller said. "He messes up the hitters' timing."
Still, talk to anyone in the Phillies organization about Flande, and impressive stats and honors notwithstanding, the topic always comes back to Yohan Flande the man, even more than Yohan Flande the pitcher.
"He's outstanding, just a great, great person," Heimuller said. "This is not something you can fake. He's just very caring and friendly. He's very appreciative of his teammates, always the first one to say 'nice job' when a teammate makes a good play. He's just the nicest guy, the kind of guy you want to see do well."
The 11th annual XM All-Star Futures Game, pitting the best Minor League prospects from the United States against the best from the rest of the World, will be held at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on All-Star Sunday, July 12, at 1 p.m. CT. MLB.com will provide complete coverage before, during and after the game, which can be seen live on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on Gameday.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.