Thursday, April 1, 2010

Up and Coming Catchers, Pt 2

Tyler Flowers

With A.J. Pierzynski heading into his walk year, the White Sox are fortunate to have a replacement at the ready in the form of Tyler Flowers. Acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade in back in 2008 from the Braves, Flowers has been a top prospect since breaking out as a prospect in his pro debut in 2006. Flowers has always shown impressive power, an ability to get on base, and solid if unspectacular batting averages.

Like the aforementioned Avila, Flowers got his first taste of big league action last year in a tiny 20 at-bat sample late in the season. Unlike Avila, he didn't make much of it. Instead he struck out in eight of his twenty at-bats, managing just three hits, two singles and a double. Strikeouts are a problem that has plagued Flowers since he started his professional career with the Braves. However, that relatively major flaw (career MiLB K rate of 24.5%) is masked by the fact that he walks enough (17.9%) to make up for it. Oh yeah, and the huge power.

It is worth noting, and worth a bit of fret on the part of White Sox fans, that his K rate has been over 30% in both AA and AAA. Ideally, that would be something that he'd be improving on instead of getting worse. The high strikeout rates should keep Flowers from ever hitting for great batting averages, but his approach could make him a catchers version of Adam Dunn, and that's not by any means a bad thing. One other red flag is that high K rates in the minors have a tendency to correlate with hitters who simply can't make the adjustment to Major League pitching. However, given that Flowers does draw a lot of walks, it seems to indicate that he's not suffering from an inability to determine what pitches are being thrown at him as much as he simply doesn't swing to make regular contact. He swings to make sure that if he hits the ball, it implodes.

On the receiving end, the reviews haven't been quite as glowing. It's not that he's terrible, but he hasn't thrown out runners at a consistently great clip (just 18% at AAA last year, and never above 40% in his Minor League career), and early career knee troubles have limited his time behind the plate leaving his other abilities a bit behind the rest of the catchers in this group. It's expected that the White Sox will be focusing heavily on his defense this year in hopes that he's prepared to take over when A.J. leaves. Should he not take the necessary steps however, the team will have to at least consider moving him to first base or DH, other areas where they either have, or are expected to have openings.

For the White Sox sake we obviously hope that isn't the case. Overall, Flowers isn't as well rounded perhaps as Avila is - he certainly doesn't have his defensive game - but he brings the thunder in a big, big way. Especially for a backstop. Either way, he'll likely be making his mark in a big, bad way against AL pitchers for years to come.

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