At 26, Tyler Flowers no longer is the big-time prospect that made him the centerpiece of Atlanta's package of prospects sent to the White Sox in exchange for Javier Vazquez following the 2008 season. He's not going to dethrone A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate, at least not in 2012. And while a backup role isn't his ideal job, it's one he certainly can live with.
"I think I'm in a good spot if I'm just backing up and not being able to play as regularly as I'd like," Flowers said. "There's still a lot of education in being up here for a full season, learning from A.J. over the course of a full year to see how a guy like himself prepares everyday. And just getting the experience of being around an entire big-league season, I think it's going to beneficial no matter what my playing time is throughout the year."
Flowers and Pierzynski didn't exactly get along when they first met, though. In a seminar Sunday, Flowers mentioned that he and Pierzynski had some confrontations early on, but now are on good terms and talk quite a bit.
Maybe the tense nature of their nascent relationship was due to the fact that Flowers was penciled in to take Pierzynski's spot on the roster down the road. If all went according to plan, Flowers would've took over as the White Sox starting catcher in 2011. Pierzynski, solidly in his mid-30's, would have his contract expire following the 2010 season, which saw him post a career-low OPS of .688.
But Flowers hit just .220 with a .344 OBP in 2010 with Charlotte with an alarming 121 strikeouts. During that season, Flowers worked on making some tweaks to his swing and plate approach that were handed down by Kenny Williams, Greg Walker and Jeff Gellinger. He initially struggled with those changes, but instead of trying to revert back to his old swing and approach, Flowers worked through his issues and produced at a high clip in Triple-A last year.
"It's becoming more and more normal to me over time," Flowers said. "It's been a couple years now working with that approach and that swing. It's been very consistent this offseason. I'm definitely looking forward to putting it together in spring against live pitching, seeing how it holds up and where the problems come in."
Three years ago, few would've predicted Flowers' offense would be his greatest question mark. His defense earned poor reviews by many who saw him, with his footwork, arm and body type leading to predictions that Flowers' ultimate destination was at first base or designated hitter.
But in his 262 23 innings at the major-league level in 2011, Flowers wasn't a disaster behind the plate. Far from it -- he was, at worst, capable.
He didn't need to prove anything, at least to the White Sox. The front office has been telling him for years how happy they are with his defensive improvements. His teammates have his back, too.
"Tyler's come a long way," said starter Jake Peavy. "Since I got traded over here, I was in the minor leagues with Tyler watching him develop.
"He deserves to be in the big leagues. Obviously, we have A.J. Pierzynski and his track record throughout his career speaks for itself. But we have two very good catchers on this roster."
In filling in for Pierzynski for most of the month of August, Flowers developed a good rapport with the team's pitching staff, which remains largely intact heading into the 2012 season, except for one big name.
"I had a good one with Mark Buehrle," Flowers said with a wry grin. "Too bad he's not here.
"The other guys, we all have good relationships. I felt like we had a lot of success together. It helped solidify the opportunity to be a catcher here in Chicago, to have that good experience, to have some success working with guys and have that carry over into the season, it's definitely a good thing."
Take it from Peavy. Flowers has earned this chance, even if it's just as a backup.
"He's a big-league catcher," Peavy said. "That's the bottom line."