Flowers' power not a passing fad for White Sox
Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers' two home runs in two games should not come as a surprise.
Also capable of playing first base, the 27-year old right-handed hitting Flowers is getting an opportunity as the White Sox' everyday catcher. It's a role he is ready to assume. It's a role he has prepared for since his arrival in professional baseball.
At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, Flowers has the athletic build and strength of a football player. His power has long been a focal point of his game.
Flowers graduated from Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, Ga. During his tenure, he won accolades for his potent bat in his four years as a first baseman/catcher. He appears in every category of the school's historical leader board. He leads in single-season walks with 31 in 2004. He was at the top in on-base percentage at .710 that same season. And his .518 batting average that year is the best for the school. He wasn't just a one-year phenom. He hit .493 as a junior and .469 as a freshman.
After graduation, Flowers attended Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. He was named a National Junior College Athletics Association Second Team All-American in 2006. Known for playing high quality baseball, Chipola also helped develop players like Jose Bautista and Russell Martin, among others.
The Atlanta Braves selected Flowers in the 33rd round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. They included him in a 2008 trade to the White Sox, along with infielder/outfielder Brent Lillibridge, third baseman Jon Gilmore and pitcher Santos Rodriguez for pitchers Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan.
Flowers' professional development has included time at every level of Minor League play. He began at Danville in the Appalachian Rookie League, where he hit .279 as a 20-year-old, playing most of his games as a first baseman. In 150 plate appearances, Flowers had five home runs and 16 RBIs. He struck out 30 times and drew 16 walks.
The following season, Flowers began his conversion to catching full time.
Flowers has a composite .275 Minor League batting average in six seasons. His collective on-base percentage of .391 reflects his knowledge of the strike zone and his ability to be selective and drive the ball. He also takes his share of walks. He has compiled a very consistent and dependable resume as a player capable of hitting well and playing high-quality defense behind the plate.
My first extended look at Flowers came in the 2008 Arizona Fall League, after a season when he made the All-Star team playing for Advanced A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League. He hit .288 with 32 doubles and 17 home runs. He drove in 88 runs.
Playing for Mesa in the Fall League, he hit .387 with 12 home runs and 23 RBIs. He scored 23 runs in that short season while showing an ability to hit quality pitching. I was very impressed with Flowers' ability to center the ball and get an appropriate amount of loft in his swing. I was surprised to discover he wasn't over-swinging and trying to knock the cover off the ball. He showed an ability to refrain from lengthening his swing and trying to hit a five-run homer every time at the plate.
Flowers was behind the plate for 15 games that fall. He made no errors and had only one passed ball. He shared the position with fellow Chipola College alum Steve Clevenger, himself now a catcher for the Cubs.
In 2009, at age 23, Flowers got his initial exposure to Major League pitching. He played in 10 games, hitting .188 in 20 plate appearances for the White Sox.
For the past eight seasons, Chicago's catching duties were in the capable hands of A. J. Pierzynski. Even though Flowers has a total of 323 Major League plate appearances, he was never the man with the job. He got an increasing number of plate appearances the past two seasons, but the catching role with the White Sox belonged to Pierzynski.
Now, Flowers is the person responsible for handling the pitching staff as the starting catcher on a contending club.
Based upon the games I have scouted, he is more than capable of the task.
It would be unfair to characterize Flowers as an "offense first" catcher. In fact, his defense has improved markedly from the times I first saw him. He is a complete player capable of helping his club on both sides of the ball.
Flowers' primary offensive tool is his power. He has a thick lower body that he drives into the ball in coordination with strong arms and hands. While his hands aren't lightning fast in his swing plane, he generates enough bat speed to drive the ball on a line to the deepest parts of the field.
As is the case with many power hitters, Flowers will swing and miss his share of pitches. And he'll strike out. But his contact rate should improve with regular at-bats against the quality pitching he'll be consistently seeing. He won't be waiting days between at-bats, as he did when he was a backup catcher.
Flowers is capable of crushing mistakes. In the first two games this season, he adjusted to changeups from James Shields and belted a homer on that type of pitch. He hit an Ervin Santana 88 mph fastball down the middle of the plate for a home run.
As the starting catcher, his responsibility is to shepherd his pitchers through the game. As a quality hitter, he knows pitch sequencing very well.
The catching transition is under way for the White Sox. Tyler Flowers is the type of player that will continue to refine his game and flourish with extended opportunity. In effect, all he needs is the chance he now has. His makeup and character will not allow complacency.