LOWELL — From the day he signed with the Red Sox organization as a 16-year-old two seasons ago, the hype has grown for Antoni Flores.
The Venezuela native has drawn comparisons to his idol, Red Sox All-Star Xander Bogaerts. He’s been called the organization’s next rising star, and websites are already projecting when he could make his big league debut.
Now, Flores is making a name for himself as the shortstop and top prospect for the Lowell Spinners, helping lead them to a 13-4 record and the top spot in the New York-Penn League’s Stedler Division standings.
“I’m excited to be in Lowell,” said Flores. “It’s a great place to start. I didn’t know where I’d play this summer, and I’m happy to be playing here and in the Red Sox organization.”
Just 29 games into his minor league career, the 18-year-old has already risen to the top of the Red Sox minor league rankings.
Flores is currently ranked the No. 6 prospect in the Red Sox organization by ESPN.com and the No. 7 prospect by Soxprospects.com. Baseball America named him the team’s No. 9 prospect and Fangraphs.com ranks him the No. 4 prospect in the organization.
“It’s so exciting,” said Flores. “I don’t worry (about the hype). (My goal is) to play better shortstop and keep getting my swing better. And to have fun playing baseball.”
Growing up in Valencia, the third largest city in Venezuela, baseball was immediately a passion for Flores.
As a 9-year-old, Flores began rooting for the Red Sox when they signed one of his heroes, fellow Venezuela native Marco Scutaro. The utility infielder played for the Sox for two seasons (2010-11).
After emerging as a star in his native country, Flores signed as an international free agent — players outside of America don’t have to enter the MLB Draft — with the Red Sox for a deal worth 1.4 million in July of 2017.
“My agent asked me if I wanted to sign with the Red Sox,” Flores remember. “I said, ‘Of course! That’s my team.’ There was good communication, and I was so happy to be with the Red Sox. I’ve liked them since I was a boy.”
Flores was also thrilled to play in the same organization as his current idol, fellow shortstop Bogaerts, who was also an international signing at 16-years-old, from Aruba.
At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Flores has draw comparisons to Bogaerts (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) due to, “His long-limbed frame and swing mechanics” according to Prospects1500.com and, “Above-average bat with raw power and swing attributes,” according to Fangraphs.com.
Bogaerts was named to his second MLB All-Star Game on Wednesday.
“I love Xander,” said Flores. “He’s a great person and amazing player. I talked to him a lot during spring training and learned a lot.”
Flores opened last season in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .347 (17 for 49) with 14 RBIs and 10 runs in 13 games. He was then promoted to the Gulf Coast League, notching a triple in two games while being slowed by injuries.
He spent this spring in extended spring training, before being assigned to Lowell when the Spinners opened their season in June. In 14 games with the Spinners, he’s hitting just .174 (8 for 46), but he’s already impressed the organization.
“Offensively, he’s advanced,” Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero told Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. “He has a good approach with two strikes. He uses the whole field. Defensively, he’s got sure hands.”
Flores now hopes to continue to progress in Lowell, and possibly even move up before the season is over.
“I just want to keep getting better,” he said. “I’d love to move up to (high single-A) Greenville this year. I want to keep improving and moving up.”
Tragedy into inspiration
Lowell Spinners shortstop Antoni Flores was one of two top prospects signed by the Red Sox out of Venezuela in 2017. The other was Daniel Flores, the No. 2 overall prospect who the Red Sox signed to a $3.1 million signing bonus.
Tragically, Daniel Flores died of cancer on Nov. 8, 2017 at just 17-years-old.
While Antoni and Daniel were not related — despite having the same last name — they were friends from their time playing baseball in Venezuela. Antoni said the memory of Daniel is a driving force in his quest to make the majors.
Contact David Willis at @DWillisET or DWillis@eagletribune.com.