Tyler Flowers catching on with the White Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tyler Flowers will find himself in unfamiliar territory when pitchers and catchers report Tuesday: No. 1 on the catching depth chart.
Gone are A.J. Pierzynski’s leadership, productive left-handed bat, experience and World Series ring. On top of that, Pierzynski was a fan favorite, adding to the pressure Flowers will feel.
But Flowers has leadership skills that bode well for him, bench coach Mark Parent said.
“Being a former catcher, I’ve got no problems with Tyler Flowers running a staff,’’ Parent said. “He throws better than A.J., receives better than A.J. and he communicates with the pitchers in a better fashion than A.J. I’m excited about Tyler’s chance to go play. Not to say A.J. didn’t have a phenomenal offensive year last year. Tyler’s just a little younger  and more active behind the plate. If we get some offense and if our pitching is better because of [Flowers], we’ll be pretty good.’’
Pierzynski, 36, who won a Silver Slugger Award after hitting a career-high 27 homers with 77 RBI, was allowed to walk in free agency. He signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers.
“We’re going to miss his left-handed bat in the lineup. That’s going to be the biggest spot where A.J. will be missed,’’ Sox pitcher Jake Peavy said.
To a man in the clubhouse and front office, the Sox are confident Flowers — who arrived to camp 10 days early — will be as good if not better defensively, including his duties calling a game and working with pitchers.
“Tyler is going to be just fine,’’ Peavy said. “He had enough experience the last few years, and he watched A.J. They became good buddies there toward the end, and A.J. reached out to him.’’
Peavy’s concern — which hitting coach Jeff Manto echoed this week — is that Flowers puts too much pressure on himself. Peavy implored fans at SoxFest to go easy on Flowers.
“Saying this from a team perspective, Tyler Flowers is stepping into a very, very tough situation,’’ Peavy said. “We lost an iconic figure and world champion in A.J. I know for the fans it’s hard to watch franchise players like him and [Mark] Buehrle leave. I hope the fan base doesn’t get on Tyler Flowers’ case because he has such big shoes to fill. He’s not going to be A.J. Pierzynski, and he’s going to feel that pressure at times if he has a bad week not hitting. If fans get on him and boo —they want to win as bad as we do — it makes a difference [if they stay behind him].’’
Parent said turning over a new leaf with a new catcher has its advantages because pitchers like throwing to Flowers. They like how he sets up, gives a low target and prepares for calling a game.
“It’s a good thing,’’ Parent said. “Let’s see how it works. I’m looking forward to it.’’
Those things bode well for Flowers. Cutting down on strikeouts and handling the bat a little better while displaying the power he has shown in flashes would clinch it, but the defense comes first.
“That’s the ultimate compliment right there,’’ Flowers said of pitchers’ kind words about his catching ability. “That’s better than hitting .300 or hitting 50 homers. That’s something I’ve taken to heart five, six years ago. It’s been a long road coming to get there, and there’s a lot more I can do to get better. [Pitchers saying that] motivates me even more to continue to progress.’’
NOTES: Venezuelan catcher
Hector Gimenez, who is considered Flowers’ backup, won’t be on time because of visa problems. Right-hander Deunte Heath also will be late to camp. His wife is having a baby.
† Manager Robin Ventura’s scheduled meeting with the media was cancelled because his flight was late.