There’s an air of confidence to Tyler Flowers this season and it was clearly evident after he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout on Sunday.
Whereas last season he may have let a similar performance bother him because it’d be six or seven days before he’d play again, Flowers is comforted; he knows he’ll be back in the lineup soon.
The White Sox believe a combination of Flowers’ confidence as well as the knowledge and adjustments that come with consistent at-bats will help him improve at the plate.
They won’t go overboard with their projections, but the coaching staff thinks Flowers will strikeout fewer times in 2013 and finish with a higher on-base percentage than the .296 he produced in 2012.
“Consistent at-bats if anything else is only going to give him more knowledge than he already has,” hitting coach Jeff Manto said. “These veteran guys are real good because they have an idea what’s coming. … It’ll take some time. We’re not sitting here thinking he’ll have it figured out in a month, two months or six months. He might take the whole year to figure it out and next year will be even better than this year. It’s a process.”
Flowers’ development is off to a pretty good start.
The catcher, who has the unenviable task of succeeding A.J. Pierzynski, has already bought himself time with an expectant fanbase. Flowers has reached base eight times in 18 plate appearances and has a double and two home runs in his first five games. It doesn’t hurt that both homers put the White Sox ahead in games they won.
“It has been good,” Flowers said. “I feel like I’ve had good at-bats for the most part. They’ve made some good pitches on me too and that’ll be, next time around, making adjustments. I’m kinda seeing what they’re going to do me this first time through and take advantage of the pitches I want and learn from the ones they’re getting me out on because those are probably going to be coming the next time around.”
Bench coach Mark Parent had a similar experience in 1995.
After years as a backup, Parent played more consistently for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He remembers the assurance he felt as he blasted a career-high 18 homers in 292 at-bats that season.
“I couldn’t believe how (flipping) easy the game seemed,” Parent said. “It was amazing. You knew you were going to be in there. You didn't feel like you had to get two hits in one at-bat.”
Knowing Flowers is likely to finish with 400-500 at-bats, Manto set out to work with the young catcher this offseason. They designed a plan to trim down his swing and met several times to see how Flowers had progressed. Manto is very pleased with what Flowers accomplished.
“I liked his balance most of all,” Manto said. “He has cut out so much of his swing … that’s going to help him a great deal. All the fat being taken off his swing and his intelligence level, he’s a very intelligent guy; that combination is going to be truly helpful.”
Flowers admits he struggled with inconsistent at-bats early in 2012.
He wasn’t used to playing once a week and it took him forever to find a comfort zone at the plate. He managed to find some confidence in the second half and wound up with seven homers.
But Flowers also finished with 56 strikeouts in 136 at-bats.
Flowers isn’t too far removed from playing every day. He had 399 plate appearances between the majors and minors in 2011 and 427 in 2010. Experience tells him consistent play will help a great deal. And any comfort he can find with what’s expected of him, Flowers will take.
“I remember it’s a good feeling to know you're playing tomorrow,” Flowers said. “It shouldn't have been that way last year, but I'm human like every other backup catcher. You want to play more and it wears on you when you don't do well. ... It definitely eases the tension when you've got another at-bat or you're going to play tomorrow or four of five days a week. That kind of automatically eliminates anything you can possibly put on top of the most difficult job as it is.”