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Robo Flo: Rafael Flores forged new path in first full pro season

Flores went from deep sleeper to name to watch during impressive 2023 campaign
Rafael Flores impressed in his first full professional season. (Dave Janosz)
October 12, 2023

Hudson Valley Renegades catcher Rafael Flores had the kind of first full professional season that many Minor Leaguers envision and hope to execute when they arrive at spring training every February. At season's end, Flores finished second on the Renegades with a .259 batting average in 105 games played. He

Hudson Valley Renegades catcher Rafael Flores had the kind of first full professional season that many Minor Leaguers envision and hope to execute when they arrive at spring training every February.

At season's end, Flores finished second on the Renegades with a .259 batting average in 105 games played. He also amassed 15 doubles, eight home runs and 41 RBIs while scoring 49 runs. Flores was happy where his game was been this season.

“I’ve been having a good season so far,” the Anaheim, CA native stated in an interview in early August, infamously the dog days of summer. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is to stay healthy…that’s one of the biggest things a lot of players overlook.”

Health was something that stuck with Flores for the remainder of the season, and he noted the opportunities that he’s been afforded on the field: “I’ve been able to stay on the field and get as many at-bats as I can and trying to take the most out of the opportunities that I get.”

The at-bats this season were crucial for Flores. The 22-year-old was signed after the draft by the New York Yankees on July 25, 2022, out of Rio Hondo Junior College. He held a .380 batting average while smacking nine home runs, 36 RBIs, and 41 runs in 39 games played for the Roadrunners in 2022.

That following summer, Flores headed north to The Last Frontier and played summer collegiate baseball for the Alaska Goldpanners in the Alaska Baseball League. An league that has helped produce future Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Dave Winfield, and other Major League stars such as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Harold Reynolds. In 28 games for the Goldpanners that summer, Flores hit .348 with 36 RBIs in 28 games.

Leading into the 2022 First-Year Player Draft, Flores thought he might get drafted as he had conversations with a few organizations leading into it, but in the 20 rounds he didn't have his name called.

Immediately after the draft, the Yankees came calling and signed him to a free agent contract, and he left school to pursue baseball. He appeared in just four games for the FCL Yankees and went 6-for-14 with two home runs and six RBIs. That momentum carried over into this spring when Flores was assigned to the Opening Day roster for the Renegades and reached base safely in his first 12 games. There’s been one constant thought that Flores has had throughout this season to help stay consistent.

Though Flores succeeded at the plate, his offense wasn't initially resulting in a huge power output. Through his first 88 games played, he hit only four home runs despite strong showings in batting practice nearly every day. However, he was able to keep in mind that in the Minor Leagues, the process is maybe even more important than the result.

“As long as I keep hitting the ball hard, that’s all that matters; home runs will come eventually. I haven’t been worrying about home runs. I feel they’ll just come naturally," Flores said in August before hitting five home runs in the final 17 games of the season and in the playoffs, proving his talent for fortune-telling in addition to baseball hitting.

Defensively this season, Flores bounced between catching and first base for Hudson Valley. He’s played first base in 57 games this year while starting 33 games behind the dish. Learning first base was a seamless transition.

“It’s been a really easy transition; I think me being a handsy player as it is, going over to first base wasn’t that difficult for me,” he noted. “I played a lot of corner infield in JUCO and in high school, so I love playing first base, and if I can stay in the lineup for as long as I can, I’ll do whatever it takes.” Because he plays more than one position, it can be tough to find the right time to practice both throughout a 132-game season.

“I’ve been still kind of messing around with what works for me because I like to get work done in both positions, but it’s tough with our schedules. I think I am trying to find that happy medium.”

“I think my season went well," he said. "[I want to] just cruise, stay confident and happy, and keep enjoying the game we’ve been playing for a long time.”

Flores hopes to join another prominent Rio Hondo alum and former Hudson Valley Renegade, three-time All-Star Evan Longoria, as a Major Leaguer soon. For now, Flores is enjoying a successful first season and hopes to continue to progress closer to his dream.