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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – USC baseball alumnus Bernardo Flores Jr. made his MLB debut for the Chicago White Sox last night, becoming the 116th Trojan to play in the Major Leagues.

Flores entered in relief for the White Sox in the eighth inning, tossing one frame in an 11-6 victory over the Kansas City Royals. The southpaw was drafted by Chicago in 2016 and added to the club’s 40-man roster last year, before receiving his first call-up last month and then making his MLB debut on Thursday.

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Flores progressed steadily through the White Sox system, reaching Hi-A in 2017 and AA the following season. In four minor league seasons, Flores owns a 3.18 ERA, with 342 strikeouts and 92 walks.

During his collegiate career, Flores tossed 91.1 innings in three seasons, serving mainly as a reliever, but also making eight starts for the Trojans. He had his best season in 2015, tossing a career high 44.2 innings while posting a 3-1 record, one save and a 3.83 ERA. For his career, Flores struck out 85 batters and walked 35.

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He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2016 draft by the White Sox as one of 12 Trojans selected that year. He joins fellow 2016 draftee Brooks Kriske as the second USC alum to make their MLB debut this season after Kriske broke through with the Yankees in July.

Rosenthal bounced back with the Kansas City Royals, prior to a midseason trade to San Diego. The 30-year-old threw 23 2⁄3 innings with a 1.90 ERA. The 6´2´´, 235 pound righthander averaged nearly 15 K/9 while only walking just more than three batters per nine. He posted a 2.22 FIP, as well. Rosenthal missed the 2018 season after Tommy John surgery, and he then proceeded to struggle in 2019.

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Treinen threw just more than 25 innings in 2020, but his strikeout rate was down significantly. The 6´5´´, 225 pound righty averaged 7.71 K/9 and only 2.81 BB/9. The 32-year-old sinkerballer posted a 3.86 ERA with a 3.15 FIP. The member of the World Series champion Dodgers will likely be looking for his fourth team this winter.

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Brad Hand and Archie Bradley are two more names that joined the free agent reliever class. Hand, a 6´3´´, 220 pound southpaw was available to the league on outright waivers from Cleveland earlier this offseason and nobody claimed Hand for mere money. The 30-year-old reliever pitched in 23 games last year encompassing 22 innings. The lefty averaged 11.86 K/9 with 1.64 BB/9 and compiled 1.1 fWAR with a 2.05 ERA and 1.37 FIP.

The 28-year-old Bradley was traded from the Diamondbacks to Cincinnati at the deadline and he pitched 18 1⁄3 innings total, with a 2.93 ERA and 2.59 FIP. The 6´4´´, 225-pounder didn’t strike out as many hitters in 2020, averaging ony 8.84 K/9 last year after 10.93 K/9 in 2019, but he did increase the walk rate.

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Overall, this market has been slow-moving so far, but it’s ripe with talent that can help teams.

Call to the Pen
The White Sox have done a pretty solid job overall of cobbling together bullpen assets and displaying a representative level group of arms. La Russa is often credited with inventing the modern bullpen. He likes using a designated closer, setup men from the right and left sides, and having the rest fall in line. New rules could change the way he operates, but bullpen management should be a strength in the new-look dugout.

With the eighth-best bullpen in the sport last year, this isn’t an area of weakness for the White Sox — but strengthening a strength is likely necessary in a wide-open American League. The majority of their above-average group will return in 2021. Aaron Bummer, a 27-year-old southpaw, ran into some injury issues last year after signing a contract extension but he still managed to average 13.5 K/9 with a 0.96 ERA. In 2019, Bummer threw 67 2⁄3 innings and posted a 2.13 ERA.

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Evan Marshall just signed a $2 million deal to remain with the club and the 30-year-old has been stellar. The right-handed changeup specialist posted a 2.04 FIP and 2.38 ERA over 22 2⁄3 innings. Marshall struck out almost 12 hitters per nine innings and walked just 2.78.

In addition to those stable veterans, some young hurlers burst onto the scene in 2020 as well.

Codi Heuer, 24, posted a 1.52 ERA in 23 2⁄3 innings. The 6´5´´, 195-pounder averaged 9.5 K/9 with a 2.77 FIP. Matt Foster is a 25-year-old righty who displayed a plus changeup with increased fastball velocity. Over 28 2⁄3 innings, the former 20th-rounder averaged 9.73 K/9 with a 2.20 ERA and 2.88 FIP. Garrett Crochet’s role is yet to be defined, but he could be an option in the 2021 bullpen before too long as well.

Lefty Jace Fry and rubber-armed righty Jimmy Cordero are still on the roster as well. The 27-year-old Fry posted a 1.83 FIP vs lefties and averaged more than 12 K/9 against righthanders. Cordero pitched in seemingly every game for the 2020 club and he dealt with some overuse. He would strand lots of runners, and his FIP (3.87) was much better than an ERA that came in higher than six.

One look at the 40-man roster indicates a plethora of younger options, as well. Zack Burdi’s stuff looked all the way back while harboring similar command issues to the past. Bernardo Flores Jr. is a starter, but could be used in a relief role. Jimmy Lambert looked solid in a brief stint, and he’s a bullpen candidate if he gets healthy once again. Tyler Johnson was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, Emilio Vargas was acquired via waivers and José Ruiz is hanging by a thread.

The argument can be made that the White Sox have enough in the current bullpen to compete in the American League. Bummer, Heuer and others could handle the ninth inning. Deadline trades are common for contenders, and 2021 likely won’t be any different. Should the White Sox spend a considerable piece of their arbitrarily set budget on a closer? It’s a valid question.

Fans and observers in many cases would prefer that money be spent on another starting pitcher, or a better option in right field or designated hitter. The club hasn’t shown a willingness or propensity to play at the very top of the free agent market in the majority of cases. They did it last year with catcher Yasmani Grandal — a rarity. But they’ve done it in the past with relief pitching, multiple times.

All indications are that they’d be content doing it with Hendriks. He’s the top target, and while it shouldn’t be beyond criticism, at least it’s the right player for the closer role. The White Sox feel comfortable when the financial ceiling is lower, and the bidding for the 31-year-old shouldn’t get too uncomfortable.

Hendriks would make an already-great White Sox bullpen one of the very best in the sport. La Russa likes shortening games, and having the Aussie fireballer at the back end does just that. The conjecture over the appropriate use of resources will and should continue, but nobody can deny that the club would be setting themselves up to be one of the favorites in the American League by adding Hendriks. And that’s kind of the point of this whole operation.

Flores is the first USC alum to pitch for the White Sox since the late Tom Seaver, who passed away earlier this week.

USC has produced 116 major leaguers over the years — more than any other NCAA program in the nation. Trojan alums boast 67 All-Star appearances, 29 World Series appearances, nine Cy Young awards, three Hall of Fame inductions, three Rookie of the Year Awards, one American League MVP and one World Series MVP.

Welcome to the Show, Bernardo!

— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) September 4, 2020

#BernardoFloresJr, aka @flo_rider95, is the first USC product to pitch for the #WhiteSox since #TomSeaver in 1986. @USC_Baseball

— SoxNerd (@SoxNerd) September 4, 2020

I thought about this afterward last night and going into this it had special feeling about it. For me it is tremendous honor and privilege to be the first @USC_Baseball Since the great late Tom Seaver To pitch for the @whitesox. #RIP41

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