The White Sox don’t have the greatest farm system in the world, opting to move a number of top prospects in order to acquire major league talent. While the merits of that plan can be debated, it has resulted in the White Sox having only a handful of really interesting prospects to follow right now.
Coming into the season, Tyler Flowers was among that short list of prospects to watch, and everyone had him penciled in as A.J. Pierzynski’s successor as the White Sox’ catcher. The White Sox got him from the Braves in the Javier Vazquez trade, and in 2009 he proved his high prospect status with a .939 OPS. The thinking was Flowers would hone his catching skills this season, and come up to contribute on the major league level sometime in the middle of the year.
Needless to say, that plan didn’t work out well. Flowers spent the entire season at AAA, and struggled throughout the season. He posted a line of .220/.334/.434/.768 with 16 home runs and 22 doubles. He struck out a career high 121 times, against 55 walks. That rise in strikeouts is obviously partially responsible for his lower batting average, and also responsible for the slow down in his development. It is hard to be an impact major league hitter with that many strikeouts, and only 76 hits. At least he is patient though, which is good to see, even if his overall walk total fell for the third straight year.
Looking deeper into the numbers, Flowers’ season is even more concerning. He didn’t get terribly unlucky on balls in play, with a .286 BABIP, which is unlucky, but not terribly unlucky. He was absolutely terrible in his home park this year, posting a .686 OPS, with just a .181 batting average. A .846 OPS on the road saved his overall numbers, but that is a curious development that you don’t see often.
Defensively, Flowers had a lot of work to do, and he might not have gotten much better. It is okay for a catcher to have a few defensive weaknesses if he can hit, but Flowers might not be able to hit in the major leagues. He threw out just 26% of prospective base stealers this season, and has a career 28% caught stealing. Throwing out base runners is never going to be Flowers’ strong point. Scouts apparently have questions about his overall receiving skills as well, which means makes one wonder if he will ever be an everyday catcher in the major leagues.
Baseball Prospectus named Flowers the catcher for their “All Disappointing Minor League Team”.
After hitting .297/.423/.516 across two levels in 2009, Flowers seemed nearly big league-ready, but everything went backward this year. Not only did he scuffle to a .220/.334/.434 mark at Triple-A Charlotte, but his defense, which improved in 2009, went backward again, to the point that many scouts wonder if he could play the position every day in the big leagues. With A.J. Pierzynski hitting free agency in the offseason, the timing of Flowers’ regression couldn’t be any worse.
Overall, Flowers really could not have been more disappointing this season. He’s started to swing and miss too much, negating his patience at the plate, which might be deteriorating anyway. The already questionable defense might have regressed, to the point where playing him at catcher everyday isn’t an option. Even if he has a great Spring Training, which is a big if, Flowers can no longer be counted on for next season. Because of that, Pierzynski will probably have to be brought back, and the White Sox have started searching the system for other catching options.