Around this time last year I ran profiles on what was a promising group of young catchers throughout the Central, and one of those profiles was on the White Sox Tyler Flowers. While the group has experienced varied results, Flowers has just 35 plate appearances spread over the past two seasons to his credit.
He's also a player in dire need of a strong comeback season. While strikeout concerns have plagued Flowers throughout his career, something I mentioned while profiling him last season, he retains impressive power and posted a .214 ISO in AAA during the 2010 season. Regrettably, he also saw his already disturbingly high strikeout rate climb yet another 5 points to 35%.
Player who strikeout that much will always struggle to hit for a good average. As a catcher, Flowers inability to hit for average could be off set by the fact that he hits for plus power. Catchers after all, need not hit all that well to produce a league average OPS (.699 in 2010). The other problem for Flowers unfortunately, was that his defense wasn't proving to be Major League caliber.
If Flowers game behind the plate couldn't prove to be adequate, it's likely that his inability to hit for average would make him inadequate at more offensively capable positions like first base or designated hitter. A point that was effectively rendered moot this off season when the White Sox moved to lock up the powerful duo of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn to long-term deals.
At this point for Flowers to have a future with the White Sox, he was going to have to prove that he could hold his own behind the plate. In the past his sheer size - he's 6'4", 245lbs - made catching a difficult task. He has more difficulty maneuvering behind the plate than smaller catchers who can move laterally better to gobble up errant pitches and prevent runners from taking extra bases. Adding to the problem was the fact that Flowers' arm and transition skills were below average. All of this combined to make him poorly regarded as a defender.
This spring however, Flowers has looked strong. While base runners have still had some success against him, he seems to have improved his footwork behind the plate and reduced the time on his home-to-second throws. He also seems to be moving around better behind the plate. His manager has taken notice too, saying, "Behind the plate, he's outstanding."
While that's stretching it to say the least, Flowers being passable as a catcher would represent a pretty significant improvement and give the team a legitimate asset. The White Sox obviously just locked up long-time backstop AJ Pierzynski for another two years, so at this point, one has to assume that Flowers is more trade bait that catcher-of-the-future material. Regardless, after a season in which his stock dropped quite a bit, this has been a good spring training for Flowers, and he needed it.
Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.