The 2012 MLB Draft class had two strengths: High-ceiling pitching prospects and a depth of high school prospects. While Chris Flexen might not fit in with the former just yet, he certainly fit in with the latter. The right-hander was among the top pitchers in the state of California, and among the top rung of high school pitching prospects nationally. In 46 innings at Newark Memorial High School, he went 6-0, posting a 0.46 ERA with 10 walks and 60 strikeouts.
At the time, much of the 6’3”, 215-pound Flexen’s success came from his fastball, a pitch that sat 88-92, touching as high as 94 MPH on occasion. He augmented it with three secondary pitches, with his slider the best of the three, his curve being a so-so pitch, and his changeup lagging well behind the other two. Flexen’s combination of stuff, command, and a mature approach to pitching made him an attractive target to colleges and MLB teams alike. With his advanced skill set and commitment to baseball powerhouse Arizona State University, Flexen fell in the draft, as teams were scared away by his high signing demands and his college fallback.
The Mets selected Flexen in the 14th round, the 440th overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft. The Mets and the 17-year-old eventually agreed on a $374,400 signing bonus, a value slightly cheaper than most thought Flexen would sign for, but still well above the slot allotment of $100,000 for a 14th-round pick. He was assigned to the Kingsport Mets that year, and went on to appear in seven games, making six starts. In 32 innings he posed a 5.63 ERA, allowing 38 hits, walking 14, and striking out 26. He was assigned to Kingsport for a second time in 2013, and the results were much better in his second go-around in the Appalachian League. In 69 innings, the 18-year-old Flexen went 8-1, posting a 2.09 ERA, allowing 53 hits, 12 walks, and 62 strikeouts.
Flexen jumped straight to full-season ball in 2014, getting assigned to the Savannah Sand Gnats. The 20-year-old Flexen struggled to the tune of a 4.83 ERA in 69 innings, allowing 75 hits, walking 37, and striking out 46. A few days after his start on June 28, he was placed on the 7-day disabled list for right triceps inflammation, and by the end of the month, would be on the disabled list for the foreseeable future, as he had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery.
Mechanically, Flexen had long been a red flag for such an injury. While he took a healthy stride to the plate and effectively utilized his lower half, his slow tempo sometimes forced him to rush his arm action to catch up with his body during his drive off the rubber, resulting in stress on his arm and shoulder. In addition, his right arm generally stayed flat when his front foot planted and his shoulders began rotating, which overloaded his arm and placed additional stress on the limb and shoulder.
When Flexen returned to the mound on June 24, 2015, after sitting out slightly less than a year recovering from Tommy John surgery, he performed better than almost anyone would have expected. He showed virtually no complications from the procedure, posting a 2.42 ERA in 52 innings split between rehab appearances with the GCL Mets and the Brooklyn Cyclones, and an assignment to the Savannah Sand Gnats. He allowed 45 hits, walked 16, and struck out 51. So impressive were the results that the Amazin’ Avenue minor league team judged the right-hander to be the Mets’ 10th top prospect going into the 2016 season.
Assigned to the St. Lucie Mets for the 2016 season, the 21-year-old Flexen had a season that was by no means poor, but was a disappointment all the same because of high expectations. Pitching 134 innings for the St. Lucie Mets, Flexen posted a 3.56 ERA, allowing 125 hits, walking 51, and striking out 95. The slight trending of his peripheral numbers in the wrong direction, along with the development of numerous other prospects in the system, led to the right-hander being dropped to 21 in the Amazin’ Avenue Top 25 Mets Prospects list for 2017. Regardless, there was still much to be excited about, and the Mets clearly thought so as well, as they added him to the 40-man roster that November.
Flexen began the 2017 season on the disabled list recovering from surgery to remove a bone chip in his right knee. He was activated from the disabled list on May 17 and made three starts with St. Lucie before being promoted to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies on May 31. Since the promotion, Flexen has cemented his name as the Mets’ top pitching prospect. In 48.2 innings with Binghamton, the right-hander has posted a 1.66 ERA, allowing 28 hits, walking seven, and striking out 50. The sterling numbers were the result of a jump in his stuff. At a hardier 6’3”, 250-pounds, Flexen’s fastball has been sitting 93-95 with plane and tailing action, and he has been able to command it to all sides of the strike zone. While his curveball has remained average with flashes of being better, his slider has improved by bounds, and is considered by some to be a potentially plus pitch. The changeup still lags behind the curveball and the slider, but it has remained a useful pitch to change the tempo of hitters, and every so often he is able to throw a good one or two.
There are still many unanswered questions about Flexen, mainly related to his durability thanks to his extensive injury history, but he has the stuff to compete in the major leagues and will now get his chance.