MOOSIC — John Flaherty may have grew up in New York, but Scranton holds a special place in his heart.
The former big league catcher made his way to Moosic to be a part of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders’ Legend Series. And as he made his way from the city, he thought of the memories he’s had playing here — against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons — and Phil Rossi, the MLB scout who got him drafted by the Boston Red Sox. If it wasn’t for Rossi, who’s a Scranton native, Flaherty isn’t sure how his baseball career would have turned out.
“He’s the smartest man in baseball because he’s the only scout who gave me a chance to play baseball,” Flaherty said. “I’m still really good friends with Phil and his family and that guy saw me play in high school, followed me through college and gave me an opportunity. So when I was driving from New York to Scranton today, I thought a lot about him. I thought a lot about spending time with him in the offseason. I thought a lot about coming here as a player and seeing him. Phil’s been a huge part of my career.”
Flarehty and Rossi, who is now a scout for the Miami Marlins, first connected when the catcher was in high school and went down to the Bucky Dent School in Florida for the winter. Rossi was an instructor at the academy.
From there, Rossi went to watch Flaherty play at George Washington University three times — during his freshman, sophomore and junior campaigns. Flaherty suffered an injury to his arm during his junior year that scared off a lot of scouts. But not Rossi.
It was that trust and bond that the two had built that led to the Red Sox selecting Flaherty in 25th round of the 1988 draft.
“He saw me three times in college and drafted me. I owe a lot to him,” Flaherty said. “He came to see me my last college game and he asked me how my arm was, and I said, ‘It’s not 100 percent but it’s getting better.’ I think the trust that we had there, he put a good word in with the Red Sox and it worked out. But I probably should of gotten drafted higher than I did if it wasn’t for my arm, but it took one guy to believe in me and that was Phil Rossi.”
King an ace in the making
Time and time again RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell has called Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starting pitcher Mike King a “surgeon.”
The way the 23-year-old right-hander prepares and game plans for each start is different than other pitchers the first-year RailRiders manager has been around. King has the ability to even shift outfielders into spots that sets them up for success.
While Wednesday’s start against the Syracuse Chiefs was more than impressive — six perfect innings in yet another win for the right-hander — King’s outing is becoming a pattern. He lowered his already-sparkling Triple-A ERA to 1.09 on the season.
“I’d heard nothing but good things about him when he got here and I’ve seen everything I’d heard — preparation, the command, just location, location, location and the movement,” Mitchell said. “He’s proven that he can obviously pitch here. It’s a short period, but I don’t see it — the way he handles everything — I see him being a pretty darn good pitcher at the major league level.”
Even Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who has rehabbing during King’s start, came away impressed.
“If he keeps hitting his corners, hitting his spots and throwing the ball low over the zone with the movement of his fastball, he can get anybody out with that,” Sanchez said.
Mitchell, who’s seen King more than the catcher, echoed Sanchez.
Even though King has just six Triple-A starts under his belt, Mitchell believes the right-hander could pitch in the Bronx if called upon.
“Yeah, I do. I really do. It remains to be seen, but I think he can,” Mitchell said. “Like I said, the preparation is huge for him. It doesn’t look like he’s ever nervous or doesn’t have confidence in himself, and I think that’s huge when you get to the next level and I think he’s proven that here, coming up here and pitching the way he is. He’s pretty much dominated the league up here in six starts. You always kind of think, ‘Yeah, he’s going to run into a snag.’ But he doesn’t. It’s pretty good.”
Espinal mowing down the opponents
Raynel Espinal has been thrust into a lot of different situations this season.
The right-handed reliever has pitched late in games, in middle relief and has even made three starts. But no matter the situation, Espinal has been able to deliver for the RailRiders.
In his last five outings for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — spanning over 9.2 innings — the 26-year-old has struck out 19 batters.
“I tried to throw the first-pitch strike and be ahead in the count. I tried to finish with my slider,” Espinal said after Friday’s start, which he struck out four batters in 1.2 innings.
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle