White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers starting to bloom
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN firstname.lastname@example.org August 25, 2011 9:48PM
Catcher Tyler Flowers has an on-base percentage of .396 in 15 games with the Sox this year. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:25AM
SEATTLE — The White Sox never expected to say “wait till next year” in August. But the handwriting is on the wall, right next to a loss column that grows as games remaining dwindle.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s first trip on the disabled list provided one positive in all this. It threw Tyler Flowers into the fire of meaningful games in late August and gave the Sox a glimpse of what he’ll have to offer as Pierzynski’s backup next season and perhaps his replacement as the starting receiver in 2013.
The 6-4, 245-pound Flowers, a top prospect when he came to the Sox with Brent Lillibridge from the Atlanta Braves in the Javier Vazquez trade after the 2008 season, had the look of a ready-for-prime-time catcher after he batted .297 with 15 homers combined at the Class AA and AAA levels in 2009. But Flowers slumped to .220 at Class AAA Charlotte in 2010, and that heightened the need to re-sign Pierzynski for this season and next.
Flowers rediscovered his bat in the minors, and since coming to the Sox on July 10, he’s batting .289 with a .396 on-base percentage, one homer, six runs and three RBI in 15 games.
“My offense has come along a good ways after revamping my swing last September,’’ Flowers said. “It’s taken awhile to trust it, but it’s still a battle day in and out to be consistent with it. I’m a believer in what I’m doing now. It’s up to me to keep it up there.’’
Flowers was batting .261 with 15 homers at Charlotte this summer when Ramon Castro suffered a season-ending injury. For the most part, he has called a good game and played sound defense for the Sox.
“He was having a good year in Triple-A, so I’m glad the opportunity came for him when it did,’’ said 29-year-old catcher Donny Lucy, who played with Flowers for three seasons. “At that point, he was ready offensively and defensively to seize it. That was kind of cool to see that happen for him.
“He looks great. He looks as good now as I’ve seen him in three years. At the plate and behind the plate, he exudes confidence.’’
There was a belief that if the savvy Braves gave up on a player, it was for a good reason. Lucy wondered why when he saw Flowers at spring training in 2008.
“The first thing you noticed was the natural raw power that he has, even in batting practice,’’ Lucy said. ‘’Watch the guy in BP. He can launch the ball — and not only to left field — he can launch it to all fields.
“The word on him was that he wasn’t as good behind the plate but [that’s not the case]. He’s a big guy and he’s athletic. Watch him run around the bases, he can move.’’
In the Sox’ 5-4 loss to the Angels on Tuesday, Flowers moved a little too much for manager Ozzie Guillen’s liking when he made the third out at third base trying to go from first base on a grounder to short. Chalk it up to over-aggressiveness and a lesson learned on the job.
“I’ve seen him have some ups and downs,’’ Lucy said. “He had a little bit of a tough year last year, but the thing about Tyler, even when he was struggling he was in the cage before the game, after the game. He has a tremendous baseball ethic. From a receiving and throwing standpoint, he wasn’t bad but he’s got better. He played a lot of first base with the Braves coming up, so there was a transition.’’
“I’m not saying I’m Pudge Rodriguez back there but I’ve definitely improved over the years,’’ Flowers said. “I’m still a work in progress. There are a lot of things I wish I did better, to be a better overall catcher. I still do early work with Chief [bullpen catcher Mark Salas] and [Kevin] Hickey. Those are things you probably don’t quit in your career until you retire. ’’
Since coming up this time around, Flowers is taking the approach of “every game is just another game.’’
“There are more cameras, but it’s the same thing,’’ Flowers said. “I can’t worry about it. I’ve had a couple of good games, I just have to keep working hard. I’m not concerned about Tyler Flowers getting a hit every game, I’m more about our pitchers doing a good job and us scoring a few more runs than the other team so we can win a baseball game.’’