Flowers to work on offense at Triple-A

Flowers to work on offense at Triple-A

PHOENIX -- He came to the White Sox from Atlanta, as a major part of the 2008 Javier Vazquez trade, carrying the reputation as a catcher who could immediately hit at the Major League level.

When Spring Training '10 began back in late February, he was starting to be referred to as A.J. Pierzynski's possible replacement behind the plate in 2011 when the veteran's backstop contract expires.

Now, after being optioned to Triple-A Charlotte prior to Tuesday's game with the Giants, Tyler Flowers has some work to do if he wants to come close to reaching these lofty goals. And the interesting challenge for Flowers is that the offense-related side of his game has dropped off, while his defense has vastly improved.

"The only thing I feel holding me back is my offense," Flowers said. "I struggled in camp, but I've made some adjustments working with [hitting coach Greg Walker] and I feel a lot better, like I'm back in it."

"Tyler has some work to do but so does everybody else," said Walker. "I like the direction he is headed right now."

So, what happened to Flowers' hitting strength? It was no less than general manager Ken Williams who made that claim of Flowers being ready to hit Major League pitching shortly after picking him up from Atlanta, and it was Williams who said Monday that Flowers would have not only hit but hit with some impact in the big leagues if he had maintained the same approach Williams witnessed in the 2008 Arizona Fall League.

According to Williams, Flowers' approach at the plate had changed when he was called up to the Majors last September and was exaggerated more this spring. The 24-year-old moved his hands behind his right shoulder, creating for a much longer swing, while adding a twist of the upper body and opening up his hips and leading with his hips.

"It was a double combination of bad," Williams said. "Tyler had them more in a traditional place with a traditional load. Walk has talked to him about it. I talked to him about it. I have the greatest frame of reference to see him.

"I do see signs of him now getting his hands away from his body a little bit. He's showing a shorter swing. His short swing is still very powerful. He's better able to handle all the pitches when he does this. I'm encouraged by him at this stage."

During 11 Cactus League games, Flowers had two singles in 18 at-bats for a .111 average. He managed to draw four walks, while striking out five times, and Walker pointed out that Flowers is ahead of the game in tougher areas to learn such as having a solid working knowledge of the strike zone.

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Walker explained that Flowers worked extremely hard this past winter, and the White Sox let him come into Spring Training, not thinking he was going to make the team with Pierzynski and Ramon Castro in place, and take those early at-bats to see where he stood. After a couple of weeks, Flowers realized he didn't feel good with what he was doing.

"There are some things mechanically he needs to clean up, but that's what Triple-A is for," Walker said. "I still believe he's got a chance. I don't think he's that far off, and I love his talent."

"That happens sometimes when guys go home and they work with their own individual hitting instructors and they aren't necessarily qualified instructors to teach Major Leaguers how to hit Major League pitchers," Williams said. "He and Walk talked about it and worked very diligently to try to correct those mistakes."

While the offensive side of Flowers' game has temporarily dipped, he has definitely developed behind the plate. Flowers calls a better game, has shown more accurate throws on stolen-base attempts and has received valuable Spring Training refresher courses by working with Minor League catching instructor John Orton.

Daniel Hudson, who remains in big league camp and continues fighting for the last bullpen slot, has worked in a number of batteries with Flowers over the past year. Hudson has observed the knowledge Flowers gained of his pitching style simply through repetition.

"If he can start catching everyone like that, he'll get a feel," said Hudson. "He's a smart kid and it doesn't take long for him to learn what people like to throw in certain counts. That's what catching is all about, just to know what we are strong with and confident with, especially in certain counts to certain hitters."

"His intellect and his wanting more and more information as to how to handle pitching staffs has really impressed us," Williams said. "We thought that all along, so that's not a surprise."

Struggling with the bat has been the only surprise where Flowers is concerned, and it still has to play out as to how those struggles could affect the team's catching future. Pierzynski, as durable and astute as any catcher in the game, would become a free agent after the 2010 campaign without a new deal.

A belief still exists in Flowers' ability, but changes definitely need to be made at Charlotte. The confidence factor for Flowers, who came to camp with a goal to unseat Pierzynski as the starter, albeit not very realistic, has not changed.

"Something happens today and I'm more than confident to go," Flowers said. "It is what it is. I'll keep working on things, and if the opportunity comes along in-season, I'll be ready."

"On the offensive side, it's probably the most concerning," Williams said. "He's got that kind of ability [to be an everyday player], but he's going to have to get back to some of the basics."

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