Brian Flynn saw his phone swell with text messages during last October. He attended Wichita State, and his status as a professional baseball player did not preclude him from expressing awe at the ferocity of the Royals bullpen. Flynn sent texts raving about a relief core that was “just unbelievable to watch.”
A month after the World Series, Flynn learned he would join that group. Kansas City acquired Flynn, along with minor-league pitcher Reid Redman, in exchange for former All-Star reliever Aaron Crow. He had started for the entirety of his four-year career, but the Royals suggested he shift to a relief role. In the process, his reverence for his new peers only increased.
“It’s not even comparable,” Flynn said. “It’s even better than what you saw on TV. It’s fun to watch in person.”
Flynn, 24, entered this camp with the intention of making a positive impression on his new club. He may exit as a member of the Opening Day roster. Manager Ned Yost identified Flynn as one of four finalists for the final spot in the club’s bullpen. The other three are right-handers: Luke Hochevar, Louis Coleman and Ryan Madson.
Flynn is a 6-foot-7 southpaw, with a fastball that’s been clocked in the mid-90s in Cactus League action. In 10 1/3 innings this spring, Flynn has pitched to a 1.74 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 8.00. The combination of his size, his heater and his slider can disorient hitters, the Royals believe. “He’s not a comfortable at-bat,” Yost said.
Hochevar is expected to begin the season on the disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Madson looks bound for a stint with Class AAA Omaha. Flynn could join him there. Coleman is out of options, and Flynn is not. The club would risk losing Coleman on waivers if he does not make the 25-man roster.
The organization has not determined how Flynn will operate if he heads to the minors. He has embraced his role in the bullpen. He has studied how pitchers like Hochevar and Wade Davis have handled the transition from the rotation to the bullpen. He has seen his velocity increase, and his performance has caught the eye of his bosses.
“He’s primarily been a starter,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “And some of our people felt he could perhaps be an impact reliever as well. So we’re still evaluating what role is best going forward. But he’s made a great impression thus far with our major-league team.”
The trade “obviously shocked” Flynn, he said. Yet Kansas City appealed to him. It is close to his home in Tulsa, and even closer to his alma mater. Growing up in Oklahoma, Flynn did not root for the Royals. But he does espouse one belief that will appeal to the fans of his current employer.
“There were a lot of Cardinals fans in my area,” Flynn said. “It was one of those things that was shoved down your throat. Kind of like the (Dallas) Cowboys are there. It was too much for me.”
Detroit selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft. A year later, the Tigers packaged him along with two other prospects to the Marlins in a deal for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. Flynn posted a 2.83 ERA in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League in 2013 and entered Miami’s camp the next spring as a challenger for the fifth spot in it’s rotation.
Things did not go well.
“I didn’t handle the pressure of that at all,” Flynn said. “I bowed out of the race pretty quickly. I got it handed to me a couple times. It was a really humbling experience.”
Bounced back to the minors, Flynn languished there for most of the season. His brief forays into big-league action have been uninspiring. He owns an 8.64 ERA in 25 innings.
Still, the Royals saw an intriguing arm. Flynn may not make the roster to start the year. But he looms as a potential contributor during these next six months. It is a welcome change from his initial intentions.
“At first, you’re just like ‘OK, I want to impress these guys, and wherever the chips fall, they fall,’” Flynn said. “And it’s still that mindset. But now, it’s kind of getting to where that point where, feeling the way I am, I can help the team. You get it in your head, you get that confidence out there, and I really feel like I can help the team.”