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Sox hitting coach confident in charges

(MCT) — Tyler Flowers is 27 but never has played more than 52 games in a major league season.

The White Sox, though, have seen enough to make him the replacement for All-Star catcher — and South Side fan favorite — A.J. Pierzynski.

Think Flowers will have a little pressure on him this season?

"Yes, there is a concern (about the pressure),'' White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto said. "He's going to try to do well and win over fans and make a media impact. That will be a challenge, just to make him focus on what he can do."

In other words, Manto and first-year general manager Rick Hahn know that Flowers might fail before he succeeds, if he succeeds at all.

"He will make mistakes … and we'll just have to move quickly from them," Manto said Thursday in a spring-training preview conference call.

No one expects Flowers to replicate Pierzynski's offensive numbers from last season: 27 homers, 77 RBIs and a .278 average. But he has shown occasional power, although his batting average has been low and his strikeouts high.

Of course, being a catcher is more than just putting up offensive numbers. The truth is, Sox pitchers enjoy throwing to the 6-foot-4 target who learned their strengths while caddying for Pierzynski. Coincidence or not, Sox pitchers compiled a 4.04 ERA while he was catching compared to 4.16 for Pierzynski.

Manto said he was "pleasantly surprised" after watching video of Flowers swinging this winter. But then, the second-year hitting coach is nothing if not optimistic.

He's a big believer in Gordon Beckham returning to his 2009 rookie form, especially after finishing with a strong final two months, that Brent Morel could return from chronic back pain to be a factor and that free agent infielder Jeff Keppinger will be their most versatile hitter.

Plus, he predicts stardom for 24-year-old Dayan Viciedo, although some still question whether he ever will be a full-time offensive force after he hit .255 with 25 homers and 78 RBIs.

Manto says Viciedo will add a slight leg kick this year — a la new assistant hitting coach Harold Baines — to improve his timing.

"He can sit on the numbers he put up," Manto said. "I don't think what he did was a fluke. He is going to get better once he gets the timing down.

"That's what's scary about the guy. He didn't do a lot of things right and he had the numbers. He's going to be a big-time impact player."

Speaking of Baines, the new title is more than just honorary for one of the Sox's all-time great players.

"Obviously, we couldn't compare careers, but we have the same philosophy on hitting," Manto said. "All season long, I leaned on him anyway. Players are going to be surprised just how good a hitting coach he is."

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