CHICAGO – Four years is a long time to wait for an opportunity.
Since the White Sox acquired him from the Atlanta Braves in 2008, Tyler Flowers has patiently bided his time. He worked through the minors, often stuck in Triple-A Charlotte, and then found himself behind A.J. Pierzynski on the major league depth chart.
There were times Flowers believed he would never get the chance to be the Sox’s starting catcher. Finally, Pierzynski’s offseason departure has provided Flowers an opening he’s been eagerly anticipating.
“You don’t want to be the guy replacing A.J. Pierzynski,” Flowers said. “I’ve said that for a couple years where it’s going to be tough to be that guy. I think I’m capable of doing it though. I think by the end of the year this conversation might be a little different, they might be worse I don’t know. But I’m confident that I can handle the job.”
General manager Rick Hahn plans to give Flowers, 27, every opportunity to claim the starting catcher job during spring training. Besides the obvious challenges of going from a backup catcher that averages one start a week to the grind of starting nearly every game, Flowers is in the unenviable position of replacing Pierzynski, a fan favorite and member of the 2005 World Series championship team who signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent.
“From my standpoint, I am concerned that it’s not easy to replace a fan favorite especially when a lot of what Tyler does is going to be perhaps harder to discern,” Hahn told the Northwest Herald. “What he does defensively, our comfort level pitchers have throwing to him and his ability to stick to the game plan – all of that is going to have a lot of benefit to us.”
Flowers’ .213 batting average and .296 on-base percentage last season will need improvement if he wants to start behind the plate beyond the All-Star break. But to expect Flowers to put up Pierzynski’s 2012 numbers – .278 average, 27 home runs and 77 RBI – is unrealistic. Increased playing time will help Flowers’ offensive consistency, however Hahn cautioned fans against fixating on his strikeouts.
“Sitting in the stands, he might strike out twice in a game and that’s what you remember,” Hahn said. “But even though he’s a different type of hitter than A.J., there’s value in his patience. There’s value in his power so I hope people don’t get too focused on perhaps a lower batting average or a higher strikeout rate and that he’s not A.J.”
Flowers is expected to be ready for spring training when the Sox report to Glendale, Ariz. in less than three weeks. He underwent left hand surgery after the season and was in a cast for a month. Flowers’ hand was x-rayed on Friday, which revealed that it healed properly. He’s been hitting since a week after his cast came off and hasn’t encountered any issues.
“I like to think it’s something I’ve earned,” Flowers said. “I’ve served my time a little bit, so to speak. Apparently I’ve done some good things that they realize and notice. I’m extremely confident that I can handle the job, no problem. I’m just going to continue to work hard. That’s the biggest thing. Don’t take anything for granted.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @M_Montemurro.