After two half-seasons in Triple-A and a full one in between, Tyler Flowers finally has his window of opportunity after a Mark Buehrle fastball (of all things) broke Ramon Castro's hand.
It was going to take an injury to get Flowers into the fold, because for the last couple seasons, there were plenty of indications that the Sox were down on him. Flowers didn't do much to help his cause, following a strikeout-laden cup of coffee in 2009 with a miserable 2010. If he had continued his development, the White Sox might have been able to transition to a younger catching combo. Instead, they forced Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn to double-up on 30something catchers.
Flowers finally had a good spring (10-for-21, two doubles, two homers, three walks, six strikeouts), which extracted Ozzie Guillen's first-ever public compliments about him. That didn't change his fate -- he headed back to Charlotte for a third straight season, and he wasn't crazy about it.
Give him credit -- he kept his head down and battled through another iffy start. Now he's hitting for serious power, and while it comes at a cost, at least he's finally found his game. Now the White Sox will get to see if it can fly.
Down in Charlotte, Flowers is letting his freak flag fly. His line from his last 10 games pretty much sum up what he's done since the start of June -- .353/.436/.765 with 16 strikeouts over 40 plate appearances.
Overall, he's hitting .261/.390/.500, and the key number with Flowers is the 31 percent strikeout rate. That's higher than it was last year, and fatal to his starting chances, because the OBP won't translate. He simply hasn't shown major-league pitchers they need to be careful, as he's 4-for-27 with 13 strikeouts in his two Septembers on the White Sox.
However, given the scarcity of competent offensive catchers, his three-true-outcome tendencies could have value in a backup role, if he learns how to run into fat pitches. He'll get a great taste of second-string life behind A.J. Pierzynski, who will play even more now that he doesn't have a proven major-league backup.
(It's amazing -- a wayward Buehrle fastball zeroes in on Castro's knuckle and breaks it, while earlier in the week Pierzynski took a bat across the back of the neck on a follow-through, and he just needed 30 seconds to shake it off.)
This arrangement should work out to Flowers' advantage, if anything can. He'll only start against pitchers Ozzie Guillen thinks he can handle, and he also has a supporter in Jake Peavy, whom Flowers has caught during his umpteen rehab starts. That's worth mentioning, because Mark Buehrle has supported retaining Pierzynski over working with a rookie catcher in the past, and Buehrle balked in his final start last year when he and Flowers had difficulty agreeing on a sign. The leader of the White Sox rotation might not enjoy throwing to Flowers, but at least he has the most vocal of the starters in his corner.
It's going to be an easy introduction, as long as he can keep his average in the low-.200s (not an easy task, according to Adam Dunn). With Pierzynski on the books for $6 million next year, Flowers could have a 1 1/2-year audition to get acclimated to major-league pitching. He's played two full seasons at Triple-A, and he's settled into an approach that is essentially finished. It probably won't hold up over large samples against big-league pitching, but it's time to find out if it can produce at least enough to play once a week.
MiLB.com has three videos of Flowers going deep. Knights Stadium doesn't have a center-field camera, so you can't get a good look at his swing, but at least you can see his center-field-oriented power:
And below is the most recent video I have of Flowers, hitting an infield single against Syracuse: