Flowers' future clouded by low average
Triple-A catcher could be elevated if Pierzynski is moved
CHICAGO -- Prolonged 2010 hitting woes for the White Sox haven't been limited to the Major League level.
Just ask Triple-A Charlotte's Tyler Flowers, who enters June with a .207 average.
The projected franchise catcher has had what he terms the "worst month" of his professional career. May treated the engaging young backstop so poorly that Flowers decided to make the 3 1/2-hour trip from Charlotte to his home in Georgia on an off-day last week to get away from things.
"I just wanted to take some time to myself, look at some old video," Flowers said during a recent phone interview.
Some sort of verdict might have to be reached on Flowers' future in the next two weeks, and, to be honest, the on-field information provided by the 24-year-old leaves the White Sox with a bit of a hung jury. On June 14, incumbent catcher A.J. Pierzynski becomes a 10-and-5 player, meaning he has spent at least 10 years in the big leagues and at least five consecutive with the same team.
It's a date receiving much publicity of late. Pierzynski attains full no-trade veto power at that point, and as the White Sox prepare to open a nine-game homestand Tuesday against the Rangers, they find themselves on the fringe of American League Central contention at eight games behind the Twins.
That combination could cause the White Sox to explore moving Pierzynski, a free agent after the 2010 season, if they lean toward the left-handed hitter not being part of their immediate future. Pierzynski would hold great value for any contender, as a solid handler of pitchers, a career .286 hitter -- whose numbers with the bat will eventually move upward toward that level -- and as a durable, hard-working veteran who simply hates to lose.
Trading Pierzynski could give the White Sox a chance to look at Flowers over the season's next 3 1/2 months, presenting a chance to decide whether he has the makings of the franchise catcher that the team believed he was in acquiring him from Atlanta as part of the Javier Vazquez deal in December 2008. Even with the dismal present average, Flowers feels it's a role he can fill.
"Why not?" Flowers said with a laugh. "Just because I'm hitting [.207], everyone starts questioning it? That's like saying A.J. can't hit, and he's a .286 career hitter. I see people bashing him [hitting .211], and that's total [garbage].
"He's going through a rough stretch. He's putting balls in play. That's the way it goes. A lot of big name guys are struggling, and there are a lot of no-names doing well. By the end of the year, it will all even out.
"Nah. I'm the same player I was, except better defensively," Flowers said. "My offense will be there. Again, that's why [White Sox general manager] Kenny [Williams] traded for me. I'm just preparing for when that time comes."
Thanks to a .115 average in May and two hits in his last 39 at-bats with 17 strikeouts over his last 10 games, Flowers might find his time has not come, even if Pierzynski were traded.
"If they traded him today, I don't know if they would call up a guy hitting [.207]," Flowers said. "Like I said, I'm confident I will hit. At the same time, I need to get my numbers up so I'm ready when I get up there."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen found limited opportunities to watch Flowers this past Spring Training in Arizona. It's hard for Guillen to make a judgment based on that sample size, but he leans toward further Minor League seasoning for Flowers.
"From what I saw, I don't think so, not right now," Guillen said of Flowers' big league preparedness. "Maybe in the future he will. I saw so little, and I know I can't totally judge from what I saw. It's tough because you catch every three days since we have a few catchers there. But I think he needs one more year."
When Flowers joined the White Sox, the story was about a Major League-ready hitter who needed work behind the plate. Flash-forward two springs, and Williams told MLB.com how Flowers had progressed nicely in the catching department but needed to make changes in the mechanics of his swing in order to show he was an everyday catcher.
Those changes were implemented by Flowers. But with all due respect to the organization, Flowers wants to somewhat return to a more familiar style that made him previously successful.
"At the point where I've tried doing it their way this last month, sadly enough the numbers speak for themselves, and that way doesn't totally work," Flowers said. "I have to go back to the old me. I have to go back to my style of hitting, while implementing the little things Walk [White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker] and Kenny talked about.
"I'm about being a little more aggressive. I haven't been happy with not driving balls anywhere, especially to right field. I'm not driving them like I can and why Kenny traded for me. I've lost that since spring. It has even been frustrating in batting practice. But I think I found where that piece was missing. I'm pumped up to get my game going and get my timing back and get rolling."
Like most hitters in slumps, Flowers doesn't feel his production is nearly as bad as the results. Whether the White Sox agree upon could be visible in their moves over the next two weeks.
"That's a decision up to Kenny and [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf]," Guillen said. "I would like to have A.J. here, but it depends on what they want and what they need. If they think A.J. is going to help us in the future, or we need him, they will sign him. That's the way business goes, and that is a decision I don't have to make. As long [Pierzynski] is here, he's going to play for me.
"Can [Flowers] play every day? If that's what they decide, I don't have any choice. I have to go with him. I will go by what our scouts say and what Minor League people say and by what Kenny says. They tell me this guy is going to help me, I go by what they tell me."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.