Flowers' first appearance goes well

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Flowers' first appearance goes well

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.

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”