After struggling at the plate through the majority of last season — a season which should have been his biggest opportunity in professional baseball — Ramon Flores spent this winter finding his swing again.
When he's in sync like he has been most of this season, the Salt Lake Bees' left-handed hitting outfielder has a stroke as sweet as a bag full of Halloween candy and an incredibly-discerning eye.
Flores, a native of Barinas, Venezuela, ranked fifth in the the Pacific Coast League in on-base percentage (.426) going into Tuesday, and he also ranked among the league leaders in walks (22, eighth) and batting average (.319, 17th) despite a slump on the team's recent road trip (he went 3-for-26). Flores, who is listed as 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, does most of his damage with line drives into the gaps as opposed to towering fly balls over the walls.
"The sexy player is the guy that can hit for a high [on-base plus slugging], big slugging, big home run guy, but I'll tell you what — those at-bats that he puts together for us on a nightly basis and on a consistent basis whether there's runners in scoring position, he's leading off the inning, there's two outs and nobody on … it's beautiful to watch," Bees manager Keith Johnson said.
Johnson characterized Flores' approach at the plate something that will "play at the major-league level."
Flores, who turned 25 in March, would love another shot at the big time. He played in 104 games for the Milwaukee Brewers last season. His only other major-league experience was 12 games with the New York Yankees in 2015.
However, last season was bittersweet — with emphasis on the bitter. While Flores had a solid May, batting .276 with a .371 on-base percentage, he hit .205 with a .294 on-base percentage with the Brewers before they sent him to the minors in August.
"It was hard for me, tough, especially mentally," Flores said last weekend. "I think it was more mentally than otherwise. I just tried to find my swing. I didn't get it, so it was like okay, I'm going to play winter ball and try to find my swing back there in Venezuela."
Playing in Venezuela wasn't a magic elixir, but it did provide Flores the repetitions to work on his timing and the opportunity to get a solid base under himself — literally and figuratively. In August 2015, he suffered a broken bone (compound fracture) as well as a dislocated right ankle. After surgery, he rehabbed right up until spring training in February 2016.
"I couldn't find my rhythm during the  season," Flores said. "This season, I started out different. Winter ball helped me with my confidence. I feel like I'm getting my swing back."
After a slow start, Flores found what he went to Venezuela in search of this past winter. He batted .286 in 63 games with an on-base percentage of .377. That success carried over in the form of a compact and quick swing this season with the Bees (the Los Angeles Angels signed Flores as a free agent in November).
Flores said he made no major tweaks or changes, mechanically, and his swing is largely the same as when he signed with the Yankees at age 16. He's just relieved to feel like himself again.
"I'm just trying to get a good pitch to hit and stay inside the ball and stay in the middle, try to hit into the middle [with] everything," Flores said. "That's the work I put in, and I'm feeling pretty happy with the season that I'm having. I hope that continues all season long."