(MCT) — Ken Williams was promoted in October, but his 12-year legacy as White Sox general manager must include one of the boldest decisions of the offseason.
Catcher Tyler Flowers, whom Williams projected as an All-Star shortly after acquiring him from the Braves after the 2008 season, finally is to take over for A.J. Pierzynski — whose production and durability made him one of the most popular players in franchise history.
It's a delicate time for the Sox, who are searching for a left-handed bat to replace Pierzynski — now with the Rangers — while hoping Flowers, who turns 27 Thursday, can fulfill much of the promise Williams and scouts saw in him in the Arizona Fall League before acquiring him in a six-player trade.
Of the four players they received in that trade, infielder Brent Lillibridge is gone and Jon Gilmore hasn't gotten out of the minor leagues while Flowers and left-handed reliever Santos Rodriguez — a long shot to make the opening day roster — remain. They gave up starter Javier Vazquez and reliever Boone Logan, each of whom subsequently has achieved some success with the Yankees.
"Listen, A.J. got a lot of big hits for us over the years," Williams, now the Sox's executive vice president, said Tuesday after participating with Bulls GM Gar Forman in a discussion with 12 students in the Youth Guidance B.A.M. Sports Edition program at Hyde Park High School.
"We are going to miss his left-handed presence in our lineup and his fight. He fouled off a lot of balls before sometimes he got into that hitter's count. Those kind of things are infectious, and we'll miss a little bit of that.
"But in the guy replacing him, or at least has the chance to replace him, Tyler Flowers ... we have Adam Dunn, (Paul) Konerko, (Dayan) Viciedo who can hit the ball a long way. But none of them can hit it as far as Tyler Flowers. It will be interesting to see what he can do over the course of a season."
Because of Pierzynski's durability, Flowers hasn't played on a full-time basis since the first half of the 2011 season with Triple-A Charlotte. The Sox are hoping Flowers, on a full-time basis, can supply power near the bottom of the order while continuing to draw praise from the pitching staff.
The biggest issue for Flowers and the Sox will be whether he can cut down on his strikeouts. He whiffed 56 times in 136 at-bats in part-time duty last year, and he batted .179 with 36 strikeouts in 84 at-bats against right-handed pitchers.
Despite his reserve role in 2012, Flowers frequently took batting practice five hours before road night games under the watch of manager Robin Ventura and hitting coach Jeff Manto. The Sox staff, led by Williams, believes Flowers could blossom with regular playing time and return to the form he displayed during the first half of the 2009 season at Double-A Birmingham, when he batted .302 with 13 homers before slumping and spending the next 11/2 seasons at Charlotte tinkering with his stance.
Williams has no issue with Flowers' defense. Sox pitchers had the same ERA with Flowers behind the plate (4.04) as they did with Pierzynski. Flowers, however, threw out 30 percent of attempted base stealers compared to Pierzynski's 20 percent.
"All you have to do is talk to our pitchers for five minutes, and they'll tell you how enjoyable it is for them to throw to him and the job he does behind home plate," Williams said. "He gives a good comfortable target on both sides of the plate. The center of his body where he'll move left, move right, he'll move back. He'll give a target where it's known where he wants it, down or up.
"And he studies. His pregame preparation is about as good as it gets, so the pitchers know he's invested in them and their success."