GLENDALE, Ariz. — As two of the top pitching prospects in the White Sox farm system, Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores already have quite a history. So much so, that if you go back to 2013, it’s a surprise they're even talking.
On March 28 of that year, Lambert’s San Dimas Saints squared off against Flores’ Baldwin Park Braves. What began with the two rival high schools meeting in a pivotal game in the Valle Vista League ended with Flores yelling, “I feel like Bobby Thomson!” and their coaches almost coming to blows.
“We definitely didn’t like him. I’ll tell you that much,” Lambert said about Flores.
More on that in a moment.
Even though they grew up miles from each other, Lambert and Flores now can’t get away from each other. They were both drafted by the White Sox in 2016 (Lambert in the fifth round, Flores in the seventh), they’re both currently ranked as two of the White Sox top 30 prospects list by MLB Pipeline (Lambert is 21st, Flores is 25th), and their lockers are side by side in the White Sox spring training clubhouse.
If there's a Frick and Frack in the organization, it's Lambert and Flores, even though they've had zero say in the matter. Is it luck? Coincidence? Fate? Who knows? Something just keeps bringing the two of them together.
Their baseball lives started to converge with that high school showdown in 2013. It was a big two-game series. Want to guess the pitching matchup for the first game? Lambert against Flores.
“I ended up losing. Jimmy ended up getting the win,” Flores recalled. Then he turned to Lambert and said with a big smile, “We came back the next game and won that one.”
Did they ever.
Flores was the DH that day. He came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning of a 2-2 game with two men on base.
“At the time, I was just like, ‘Please just hit the ball somewhere,” Flores recalled. “Luckily, I just got the right pitch at the right spot and I didn’t hold back. I let it all go. I got it in the air, that was the first thing. That ball kept going and going. I’m like, 'That ball has a chance.'”
The left-handed Flores turned on a fastball and crushed it. The San Dimas right fielder, who was playing shallow, raced back towards the fence, but there was nothing he could do. The ball landed in somebody’s backyard. Game over.
For Flores, it was the first and only home run he ever hit in high school, and he made the best of it, leaping high in the air like a jackrabbit three times as he rounded the bases before getting mobbed by his Baldwin Park teammates at home plate.
“He celebrated going around the bases,” Lambert said about Flores’ home-run trot. “Our team didn’t like it, but he deserved it.”
The San Dimas players didn’t like it. Their coaches hated it. A couple of them had to be separated right there on the field. They were ready to rumble with the coaches from Baldwin Park.
“That’s definitely true. Our coaches, they did not get along,” Lambert said. “After the game, you shake hands. I don’t think the handshake went very well. A couple of the coaches were holding back a couple of their coaches. It was good. Just fun competition.”
Or something like that.
After the game, Flores was quoted in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune saying, “I feel like Bobby Thomson,” making reference to Thomson’s famous game-winning home run that sent the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series. Props to Flores for knowing his baseball history.
From that game forward, the lives of Lambert and Flores kept intersecting. They both played baseball at California colleges: Lambert at Fresno State, Flores at USC. After the White Sox drafted them in 2016, they roomed together while training in Arizona. In 2017, they started the season as teammates at Class A Kannapolis. After Lambert got promoted to Class A Winston-Salem, Flores got promoted one week later. Then in 2018, Flores moved up to Double-A Birmingham. One week after that, Lambert got the call to join him.
It should come as no surprise that in 2018, Lambert came into his own and so did Flores.
Lambert was good at Winston-Salem but really flourished after getting promoted to Birmingham, going 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA with 30 strikeouts and six walks in five starts. Flores combined at both levels to go 8-9 with a 2.65 ERA.
“The guy can definitely pitch,” the righty Lambert said about the lefty Flores. “He works hard, he’s focused, a confident pitcher. Obviously, he’s got the stuff. There’s definitely a lot to like.”
What does Flores think about Lambert?
“To me, Jimmy is one of the smartest guys I know, smartest guy on the mound,” Flores said. “He’s a bulldog out there. He gets me fired up each time he starts because he doesn’t like to lose. I love that mentality of Jimmy. He never quits, he never backs down from anybody. He just goes after it and gets it.”
Just like Flores did that one day in high school.
From rivals to teammates, Flores and Lambert have grown to become close friends. Soon they hope to be knocking on the door to the big leagues.
If one of them gets promoted to Chicago, I think we know what will be coming next: the other, right behind him.