Tyler Flowers posed for pictures, shook hands and received sound advice from White Sox fans at the Palmer House Hilton on Friday night.
Save for a few pithy remarks, Flowers first appearance as A.J. Pierzynskis heir apparent was smooth.
The White Sox catcher knows it will be difficult to replace Pierzynski, a South Side fan favorite who signed with the Texas Rangers this offseason. But for Flowers to get what he desires most -- an everyday catching job -- he will have to do just that, and hes ready for a chance.
Someone has got to be that guy, Flowers said. Its a challenge; another something to go along with the story. But it really has no affect on me. You wouldnt wish it for anybody, but thats what the situation is.
While one question directed at general manager Rick Hahn in his SoxFest seminar on Friday was whether or not the team is better off without Pierzynski, White Sox decision makers are confident they have made the right choice.
The two-time top-100 Baseball America prospect was the top minor-leaguer the White Sox received in a December 2008 deal that sent Javier Vazquez to Atlanta and they intend to give him a try. Though he hasnt been handed the job, Flowers is the clear favorite with spring camp 2 12 weeks away.
Were going to give Tyler his shot, Hahn said. Nows his opportunity, his chance to fulfill a lot of the promise that we saw. Were not going to bring in someone to push it or enforce it.
Flowers has already earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. Pitchers are on board with his receiving and defensive skills and his arm. Manager Robin Venturas coaching staff appreciates how Flowers, as asked, focused on his catching duties and didnt fret over his offensive struggles in limited plate appearances last season. Players know hes a hard worker, whether its conditioning, refining his defense or pre-game preparation.
Tyler's no slouch behind the plate, pitcher Chris Sale said. He works hard, he studies video, he looks at -- he's got 15 sheets of paper on the desk before a start. He prepares with the best of them and behind the plate he's awesome. I think with some consistent at-bats we're going to see a different guy this year. If there's anybody to step up and fill that void, it's him.
Still, Flowers, his teammates and coaches are aware fans will make a big deal of the fact Pierzynski is gone after eight seasons. They know the diehards are disappointed Pierzynski wont return after he slugged a career-high 27 home runs last season. The trick is -- and Flowers said it wont be a problem -- to not make the season about Pierzynski. Manager Robin Ventura has a plan in place.
I want him to just be prepared to do his job, Ventura said. He doesnt have to do his job and the perceptions of somebody elses job. Nobody knows what that would have been. Nobodys numbers are guaranteed. Its about going in at spring training and doing the work and thats for me to keep him focused on simple stuff, not thinking about outside pressures and expectations that somebody else has.
All Flowers would like is a chance.
He doesnt expect to waltz in and immediately win over the fan base. Thanks to several autograph seekers on Friday, Flowers knows I have big shoes to fill. He isnt going to be the same guy at the plate. Flowers will strike out more often than Pierzynski and wont hit .300. But he does offer big power and plans to make himself invaluable through his defensive play and hard work.
As long as hes given a fair shot, Flowers has no complaints.
Im going to strike out a lot more than he did, Flowers said. So we can go ahead and get over that. Its going to happen. I hope the stats look good at the end of the year. But the biggest thing is catching and handling the staff. I think (fans are) going to be open enough to give me a shot at it. Thats all I want. All I wanted was an opportunity. Its all on my shoulders now to do what Im capable of.