After a terrible 2013, Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers began the 2014 season in full bloom, at least where his batting is concerned.
Through four games, Flowers is 8-for-14, the equivalent of a .571/.571/.643 slash line. Of those eight hits, seven came consecutively, stretched over two losses to the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. It was the first time in White Sox history that a catcher had seven straight hits. Flowers even speculated that he doesn’t think he’s ever had seven hits in a row, dating back to high school.
.571 is a far cry from the .195 that Flowers hit last season, a year in which frustration was the name of the game for White Sox catching. In between Flowers and his then-backup Josh Phegley, their combined batting average of .196 ranked third from the bottom in the American League, and they ranked last in the AL in both OPS and runs scored.
Shoulder problems hampered Flowers as the season wore on, detracting from his already-inconsistent hitting and weakening his strong defense. Flowers finally had surgery last September and worked hard in the offseason to get himself back to full strength and comfort by the time February rolled around. Flowers’ spring stats looked okay, but not that promising, with a line of .214/.267/.381, two home runs and five RBI.
Based on his numbers last season and in these first four games, understanding and predicting how the rest of the season will go for Flowers is not particularly easy. The 2013 season was his first season as the starting catcher, after the White Sox let A.J. Pierzynski go in the 2012 offseason.
Even then, playing through the pain in his shoulder factored into his hitting. Flowers is also not a catcher who will consistently hit well; his defense and superb handling of pitchers are what define his game.
General manager Rick Hahn made it clear that though he believes in the two main backstops his team used last season, both of them are on a very short leash. Phegley begins the season at Triple A Charlotte, with the hope that he works through the offensive and defensive inconsistencies he had after debuting last year.
With the White Sox, Flowers needs to succeed this season, not only to reinforce the faith the White Sox front office showed in him by renewing his contract or to redeem himself in the eyes of White Sox nation, but also to set a good example for his rookie backup catcher Adrian Nieto.
Nieto made a strong impression in Spring Training with his energy, intelligence and desire to learn; if Nieto succeeds this season after making the jump from Class A, he could easily factor into the White Sox long-term plans. As a Rule 5 draftee, Nieto also needs to stay on the major league roster all season to comfortably stay with the team.
Whether or not Flowers will be around in the future is really in his hands now.