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White Sox counting on youngsters to contribute

White Sox counting on youngsters to contribute

CHICAGO -- Decisions already have been formulated by the White Sox to help assemble a 2011 roster that will still be playing at this same time next year.

Those personnel calls stand in the formative stages, including moves to be made with 14 White Sox players who will become free agents, arbitration-eligible or have team options to be picked up or rejected. With general manager Ken Williams at the helm, no player roams beyond the realm of possibility -- either through free agency or a trade.

Throw out left-handed-hitting free agents-to-be such as Carl Crawford and/or Adam Dunn, for example, and figure Williams and the White Sox will be in play. But the organization also is committed to giving its young players a chance, believing in their abilities and also to balance out a payroll that checked in at $104 million at the start of this past season.

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Third baseman Brent Morel and catcher Tyler Flowers figure to be two of those rookie starting candidates. Morel earned high praise with his slick September defense, reminiscent of Joe Crede, while Flowers has worked hard to become a viable presence behind the plate.

Defense has become a crucial factor for the White Sox success, especially with a starting staff not known for its strikeout pitch. So the remaining question becomes whether Flowers and Morel can do enough with the bat at the big league level.

Hitting coach Greg Walker expressed his strong belief in both players at the end of this past 88-win campaign. And Flowers appears to be the more interesting but tenuous candidate, at this point.

When the 24-year-old was acquired from Atlanta as part of the Dec. 2008 Javier Vazquez deal, Williams stated how Flowers already was prepared to hit big league pitching. His characterization as an offense-first player took a direct hit in 2010, with Flowers checking in at a dismal .220 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs for Triple-A Charlotte.

According to Walker, that slump could be indicative of Flowers not staying steady with his swing until later in the season.

"Tyler has had some different ideas about how his swing works than what we did," Walker said. "In Spring Training, he scuffled and we kind of, at the very end, gave him what we thought he should be doing. He got off to a really good start and when he scuffled, he went back to some of his thoughts. So, when he came up this year, I really didn't know where he was with his swing.

"But he's been pretty much a sponge since he got up [to the White Sox]. Paulie [Konerko] and other players in the clubhouse talked to him about how his swing should work, and he bought into it.

"His flips, his batting practices. He's hitting balls technically correct in batting practice that might be some of the longest. ... I've never seen anyone consistently hit them that far in this park during batting practice."

Flowers went to the instructional league to get at-bats with his adjusted swing approach after the regular season's conclusion. Walker said the catcher was open to going to winter ball if a job opened.

"That tells you something about where he's at," said Walker of Flowers, who finished 1-for-11 in eight games with the White Sox. "The first thing you ask is if his swing is technically correct and will hold up in a game with a 95-mph fastball, and I think it does. We have to get his pregame swing incorporated into [his] game swing. He can do it. How quick? I have no idea. It's case to case.

"He's a tremendously talented kid that is trying to correct some swing problems and some approach flaws, in my mind. I'm still confident he's on the right track, but this winter is important to him.

"Sometimes you fail before you succeed. I wouldn't consider his year a total failure by any means and I really haven't lost any confidence. If anything, it has grown. Now we are seeing a consistent and correct swing, we are seeing consistency in pregame work we've never seen before. I'm excited about where it can go."

Giving the everyday catching nod to Flowers is far from a certainty. The White Sox could bring back A.J. Pierzynski, a stalwart on the team for the past six years who will become a free agent, or go for a defense-oriented sort of veteran.

Morel, 23, enters the present offseason as the favorite at third, showing more extra-base pop than expected during 21 September starts.

"Our organization thinks Morel is a plus defender," Walker said. "That goes a long way with him being successful for us. He has talent to hit up here. He has proven that. There are a few things we are tweaking with his swing. He's still got a few misses that we are looking to iron out this winter, but he can be a productive offensive player.

"The more efficient he becomes with his legs and swing, the more pop you will see. Every time I see him, it's a little better. His swing and offensive game [are] evolving. He's working on some things, nothing major, just minor things to iron out."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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