The last time we checked in on Tyler Flowers, his 5-for-8 start went largely unnoticed.
Now that he's 7-for-15, people are starting to talk about him. First and foremost, Ozzie Guillen delivered an unprecedented amount of praise in his direction:
"He's a different guy," said Guillen. "He swings the bat better and [he's] more comfortable [at the plate]. Behind the plate, he's outstanding.
"I'm pretty excited and happy for this kid from one Spring Training to another. I talked to everybody about it. We talk about him. Hopefully, no matter where he goes, he keeps it up playing that way so people can see him and count on him for the future."
On one hand, this makes up for a lot of lost time, and is basically a complete 180 in comparison to previous quotes. I believe this is the first time Flowers' catching abilities have been described as "outstanding" by anybody.
Naturally, I'm skeptical. It still looks like he's more trade bait than anything, and these would be the things said by an organization seeking the best possible return. Guillen isn't normally involved in trade evaluations, though, so I'm inclined to believe he probably isn't acting like an agent. It sounds more like genuine enthusiasm, which is awesome to see.
On Flowers' side, it's a little less rosy. Scott Merkin relays his response when asked how he would respond to another stint in Charlotte:
"I don't know," Flowers said. "We'll see when that day comes. I'm just trying to go day to day and see what happens."
Kenny Williams has often said that he'll seek opportunities for players elsewhere when they bump their heads against the ceiling of the depth chart, and Flowers sounds like he's aware that fate looms on the horizon. If Ramon Castro's annual trip to the DL doesn't come early this year and Flowers is toiling down in Fort Mill, Williams might be pressed into dealing.
Even after this new information, I'd still call a trade the most likely outcome. However, if Guillen is relaying what he truly sees in Flowers, then the decision hinges on timing rather than sentiment. The cards are still stacked against him, but Flowers has a better chance in that battle.
Lastings Milledge can relate to Flowers, facing steep odds of his own to avoid another year in the minors. But their reactions to the inevitable question are notably different. From Brett Ballantini's sitdown with Milledge:
"I’m definitely going to Charlotte [AAA] if I don’t make the club," Milledge said. "We already talked about it. I don’t have a problem with that. Whether starting at AAA and going from there, I’ve been there and done that as well. I just want to be the best at what I do when I’m called upon and the team needs me to step up. Whatever the case may be, I want to be able to step in and be productive when I’m called upon."
Earlier in the article, Milledge praised the Sox for their straightforward approach in signing him. He said they gave him no false hope, and he found the honesty refreshing. The thin outfield ranks and their status as contenders also made the Sox a good fit for him.
Milledge is one of many formerly touted prospects the Sox have tried to breathe life into over the years, which is kind of funny considering how easily they become disenchanted or disaffected with regards to their own prospects. Maybe they like their young players to come pre-humbled.
"Humbled" might be the wrong word to use on Brent Morel, considering he's never been accused of believing in his own hype. This spring has been a little harder on him than many anticipated, though. He's hitting .200/.286/.280 in 25 spring at-bats, and that actually represents recent improvement.
Even with a big-time performance from Mark Teahen, Guillen is being charitable towards the rookie (emphasis mine):
"That’s a decision we’re going to make: Are we going to go with better defense or Teahen’s offense. I’m not afraid to play Morel with this ballclub at all. But in the meanwhile, either way, if we keep Morel at third base, I’m not going to guarantee Teahen anything because look, if I guarantee 300-350 at-bats [and] I don’t do it, I’m going to look bad.
One big reason: Even while he's not hitting, he's not missing. Morel has only struck out twice in 25 at-bats. He's basically conducting a clinic for young players in how to successfully struggle in a small sample.
Jordan Danks has also benefited from the spoils of improved contact. He's struck out just three times in 20 plate appearances, which is a big reason why he's hitting .368/.400/.471. He's playing fine defense, and he's 2-for-2 on the basepaths. And none of these numbers include his performance in Sunday's "B" game against Cleveland, where he went 2-for-5 with a grand slam.
His brother is pleased with the developments:
"Yeah, he's having a great camp," said John of his brother, who had two hits and a run scored Sunday morning. "I think he's progressing and getting closer to where people thought he would be at this point. I'm thrilled to death with how he's doing. He's getting better."
Meanwhile, Joe Cowley wrote one of his hybrid article/columns about John Danks, with the conclusion, "Pay the man, Chairman." However, even though it's a pretty lengthy article that explains why Danks is underappreciated, it doesn't mention Jordan once.
Given how tight the Sox are with the Danks family, I still think Jordan's progress is the overlooked variable in any contract discussions. If John gives up a year or two of free agency with a three- or four-year deal, and then the Sox trade Jordan within the year, would John not feel slightly burned? Sure, baseball is a business, but family is family. Just ask the Guillens.
Maybe the Sox should be more aggressive in locking up Danks, but it takes two to tango. I get the feeling he isn't in much of a rush, and I'd love to know if Jordan's unclear future is playing any part in John's decision to hold off.
Two brief announcements:
No. 1: If you can't tell by the 1,000+ words preceding this, I'm getting back into my usual writing groove. I won't be usurping anybody else, but if you're looking forward to Colin's post tomorrow, it may come later in the day, is all.
No. 2: I've finally done something with WhiteSoxOutsider.com. It's basically a place to find easy links to all the books, but more importantly, it's a good place to leave reviews. So if you've bought White Sox Outsider 2011 (thank you) and read it (thank you), and would like to share your thoughts on it, please do.