White Sox bench coach Mark Parent has asked starting catcher Tyler Flowers to pay attention to even the minute details all spring.
So six weeks ago, when Flowers mishandled a pitch in an early bullpen session, Parent -- who likes to sweat the small stuff -- immediately asked why the catcher had dropped the ball.
Parent and many other White Sox catchers have had the same conversation this spring. But in Flowers’ case, the act is part of a specific attempt by Parent and the coaching staff to get him to focus on only his tasks.
The White Sox know the magnitude of what’s ahead for Flowers this season. He’s not only a first-time starter but he also takes over at catcher for longtime fan-favorite A.J. Pierzynski.
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They don’t want him to get too caught up in the big picture or try too hard to impress fans. So instead, Robin Ventura’s staff has tried to simplify Flowers’ approach by letting him know the importance of each and every task.
“You have to just stay focused on what’s in front of you right now and who’s on deck, that’s about as far as you’re going ahead,” Parent said. “Let the manager and the pitching coach and the other coaches think about that other stuff. You just take care of what you’ve got to.”
“I just want them to make sure you’ve got to be accountable back there. … We can’t let little things slip up because one little thing can turn into a big thing and that’s what we don’t want.”
Flowers understands the approach.
He’s OK with it, too.
Parent has been his ally and advocate from the start. A former backstop himself, Parent believes Flowers, with his strong arm, good receiving skills and power at the plate, has what it takes. He admits he was a “Tyler Flowers fan” last season and provided the young catcher with someone he could talk to, trust and receive sound advice from when Flowers struggled offensively early last season.
So if Parent has a request or wants an explanation, Flowers doesn’t hesitate to provide an answer.
“He’s a great coach for catchers,” Flowers said. “He was very hands on and interactive in all aspects of my game. And he’s a good person to take a little bit off yourself when you’re struggling and not playing as much.”
Though Flowers hasn’t played much in the majors the past two seasons -- he caught 52 games in 2012 and 38 the year before -- it hasn’t stopped him from establishing a good rapport with Sox pitchers.
They like how he sets up behind the plate and how he handles them. Flowers caught Chris Sale’s only complete game in 2012, a point not lost on the All-Star pitcher. Sale likes how Flowers identifies mechanical issues quickly -- “he sees the slightest things” -- and believes Pierzynski’s backup is well prepared.
“He could have been an everyday catcher for a year or two already, it was just a matter of we had a pretty good one here already at the time,” Sale said. “I think he’s fully capable of doing the job and he has prepared with the best.”
Gordon Beckham has seen how Flowers communicates with pitchers and thinks he has the right touch. He also has seen the way Flowers operates in the clubhouse and sees a smooth transition ahead.
“He has good even-keeled energy and that’s what you need when you’re a catcher,” Beckham said. “He cuts up. He’s like a sarcastic kind of guy. He likes to bust your balls a little bit. He keeps it lively in here and that’s good. He’s been here long enough to where he knows what he needs to do.”
Although it was deemed Flowers’ job in the offseason, the staff thinks he has done what’s needed to win the first chair.
With two exhibition games left, Flowers has a .275 average with a homer and four RBIs. He also has walked five times and has 10 strikeouts in 40 at-bats, an improvement over last season when he whiffed 56 times in 136 at-bats.
“He’s ready to go,” Ventura said. “He’s a major leaguer and we’re feeling confident with him.”
Flowers believes in how he has prepared as well. With his first day as a starting major-league catcher so close, Flowers thinks the big key is how he manages himself.
“Now it’s just a matter of trying to control emotions,” Flowers said. “You’ll get settled in at some point. Hopefully it’s the first game, first at-bat, but we’ll see what happens.”
Parent will be by his side.
All the second-year bench coach wants from Flowers early is much of the same as last season: a catcher open to communication with him, the coaches and the pitchers.
“I think you’re going to see energy level, a young guy who is really trying prove himself,” Parent said. “There’s a lot more energy as opposed to any veteran guy who is trying to pace his way through a season. That’s not just energy during the game, that’s energy in the meetings, dealing with pitchers after the game discussing what happened -- ‘What are we going to fix?’”
Flowers is on board, even if it means he has to talk about every missed signal or ball that gets away. He appreciates Parent’s insight and knows each of his coach’s queries has a purpose.
He also knows Parent has his best interest in mind.
“He definitely understands the grind and at the same time he pretty much demands perfection,” Flowers said. “If you drop one ball he’s going to talk to you about it and ‘What the heck happened? What you doing?’ Not that he always has an answer or I have an answer, but he’s demanding that perfection out of you at all times, which is good. You get the expectations out of the way Day One, which is good. We should all be aspiring to be that way. He just does it vocally.”