White Sox

Backup role a tough shift for Flowers

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Backup role a tough shift for Flowers

Tyler Flowers has never played fewer than 100 games in a full season in his professional career. Barring something unexpected, that'll change in 2012.

Flowers has gone from a highly-touted catching prospect -- the centerpiece of 2008's Javier Vazquez trade -- to a 26-year-old backup on this year's White Sox, which should be his first full year in the majors if everything goes right. But this isn't the role Flowers envisioned, even if he's okay with it.

"Right now, this is the best situation for the team. I'm perfectly happy with my position right now," Flowers said. "A couple years from now, I don't know if I'll be happy, but it's good to be here and be part of this team."

Flowers has no intention of being a career backup, like Ramon Castro. Flowers said he spoke to the former Sox catcher last year about handling the role, and that Castro's advice has been a big help. And while the adjustment to a backup role hasn't been easy on Flowers, he certainly understands his responsibilities.

"There's probably nothing I do or don't do today that's going to make or break me next week," Flowers explained. "I think that's how you have to approach it. Priority one being a backup at any position is defense, and my defense is getting that pitcher to have a good start, keep us in the game. If I do that, opportunities will present themselves down the road. Getting hits is just a bonus."

But Flowers' bat is more than just a bonus. The righty has loads of power and frequently peppers the center field ivy at U.S. Cellular Field with gargantuan blasts in batting practice. He hit five home runs in 38 major-league games last year, and while strikeouts are an issue, he still has good offensive potential for a catcher.

Reaching that potential would be easier if Flowers was playing every day, but he and his coaches are working to combat that problem.

"It's a challenge," Flowers said of continuing to develop offensively. "I'm just trying to simulate as much as I can, whether that be one of our coaches throwing to me, doing at-bats, seeing breaking balls, seeing something different than batting practice every day. That'll help a fair bit as far as recognizing pitches and such."

Those 38 games Flowers played last year -- which came when Pierzynski made a rare trip to the disabled list -- certainly helped Flowers' confidence. His play proved to him he belonged in the majors, and given his current spot on the 25-man roster, perhaps it proved to the White Sox he belongs, too.

"Being in the minor leagues for a long time, it kinda makes you start to wonder a little bit, maybe I'm not, maybe I am," Flowers said. "I think I took advantage of what I had last year and showed I'm capable of, for now, being a backup and hopefully one day starting."

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: