Flowers eyes role as White Sox catcher
Prospect preparing to help big league club in 2010
CHICAGO -- Tyler Flowers is preparing himself to be the White Sox No. 1 catcher.
Not for the 2011 season, mind you, when A.J. Pierzynski's current three-year contract expires and the potential of Flowers ascending to the South Side backstop throne has been discussed. The 23-year-old, who turns 24 during the Jan. 22 weekend of SoxFest, has his present sights set on 2010.
"When I look at the whole offseason, I'm preparing myself to be the starting catcher for the White Sox," said Flowers, during a phone interview from his home in Atlanta. "When the White Sox tell me I'm not starting, then I'll prepare to be the backup. And if I'm not the backup, then I'll prepare myself to be back in Charlotte."
In the realm of White Sox baseball reality, the durable Pierzynski remains as a valuable everyday piece of the team's desired 2010 championship puzzle. Pierzynski became the first White Sox catcher to hit .300 in a single season during the 2009 campaign and continued to adeptly handle the pitching staff. He also provided valuable leadership, while catching at least 1,000 innings for the eighth straight season.
Flowers' bravado and dedication certainly won't hurt his cause in fighting for the backup job behind Pierzynski. It has been an issue talked about publicly by general manager Ken Williams since early November.
Will Flowers benefit from another year of playing every day for Triple-A Charlotte, knowing on-field Major League time will be limited with Pierzynski at the helm? Or can Flowers benefit from working every day with Pierzynski and the White Sox staff, learning as he goes, despite a decrease in at-bats?
Williams mentioned that he and manager Ozzie Guillen liked the work ethic shown by Flowers during his September callup in 2009. But he quickly added that Flowers would have to play some sort of winter baseball during the next offseason to compensate if he stays with the big league club in 2010. Taking that sort of deal sounds more than fine for Flowers.
"Absolutely. I'll play for three years straight if they want," said Flowers with a laugh. "To be up in the big leagues all season, it would be valuable for myself, and looking at 2011, it could be valuable for the team.
"If or when I take over the team, it can't hurt me to have a full year of experience at this level. But whatever they want me to do, I'm all for it."
With the designated hitter spot currently filled by a committee of Andruw Jones, Mark Kotsay and potentially Jayson Nix, the right-handed hitting Flowers also could be used from time to time at DH. Guillen has never been a proponent of having his second catcher in the same lineup with his starter, but as Flowers quipped, if anything happens, one-time top catching prospect Paul Konerko could move behind the plate.
"I guess that really would be a backup plan," said Flowers of being used at DH, not Konerko being called upon as a third catcher. "But just look at the history on A.J. and how often does he get hurt. I can't remember a single time in his career where he really was hurt."
Regardless of his role or the planned locale, Flowers' current offseason hasn't included too much down time. He felt good throughout a 2009 season during which he hit .302 for Double-A Birmingham, with 13 home runs, 18 doubles and 43 RBIs, and wanted to keep that good feeling going over the winter break.
So, there was a 1 1/2 or two week cool down, and then Flowers went back to work. He's dropped from 243 pounds to 237 and wants to be at 235 when pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch on Feb. 21. He also installed turf in the basement of his house and uses a pitching machine to take cuts or, more importantly, work on blocking pitches whenever he can.
"My job is to play baseball, and not many people can say that," Flowers said. "I have not forgotten hard work and I'm sure not going to take the offseason off to relax. I'm really trying to progress my game every day."
The book on Flowers centers on a strong performer with the bat, who cannot come close to matching those skills with the glove. That characterization bothers Flowers, who understands how offense can be his top attribute, but has "made defense a priority."
His 2009 work with a pitching staff featuring various styles for the 92-47 Barons proved his dedication to defense started to pay dividends.
"To be honest, I've heard everything you can call out a catcher on defensively," Flowers said. "And yeah, it does bother me."
"But over the course of time, I really saw a guy who improved," said White Sox Minor League pitching coordinator Kirk Champion of Flowers' development. "Flowers was very instrumental in keeping things on an even keel with that Birmingham pitching staff. He grew a lot last summer."
Those steps forward continued when Flowers reached the Majors in September. He caught extra bullpen sessions, seeing the difference in White Sox pitchers' stuff from Spring Training to the end of the season, and sitting next to pitching coach Don Cooper every two or three innings during a game to go over the respective pitcher's approach.
Now, it's up to the White Sox to decide if Flowers is ready for prime time, even if it won't be the starting job the young man ultimately desires.
"I've come a long way since my first day [catching regularly] in Myrtle Beach [with Atlanta in 2008] until the end of last season," Flowers said. "Anything can happen. I'm just ready to get going."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.