White Sox

Flowers has 'no intentions' of playing second fiddle behind the plate

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Flowers has 'no intentions' of playing second fiddle behind the plate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the last eight seasons, A.J. Pierzynski has been a rock behind the plate for the Chicago White Sox; a durable, dependable presence whose status on the South Side is nothing short of iconic.

But with signs pointing to the White Sox not re-signing the free agent backstop, somebody will likely be taking Pierzynskis place.

Tyler Flowers wants to be that guy.

As it sits right now, theres a chance to go to the spring and win the job and be the starting catcher, Flowers said by phone on Monday. The hope is that Ill have the opportunity at spring training to have a level playing field to win the job and be the starting catcher. Thats what I hope for. Hopefully it will stay that way.

That all depends on the thinking of new White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. Here at the MLB winter meetings, he might find a trading partner for a veteran catcher. If the market drops on Pierzynski, the White Sox might even consider bringing A.J. back.

Theres still a chance of that. But yeah, Im hoping not, said a frank Flowers, who finds himself in a competitive pickle. He wants the best for Pierzynski, but he also wants the White Sox starting job.

I have no intentions of being a backup catcher the rest of my career, said Flowers, who turns 27 in January. My career is getting shorter and shorter every day that goes by. So I feel like Id like the chance to be a starter.

What are the White Sox thinking? We dont know exactly. Neither does Flowers. He says the last meaningful conversation he had with the front office happened halfway through last season when they told him to relax in his role as back-up.

They havent promised me the starting catcher position, he said. I wish they would, but thats not how it works.

Monday, I asked Hahn if the White Sox are comfortable with Flowers being their starting catcher.

If we wind up with Tyler behind the plate? Yes, absolutely," he said. "We arent there yet and we are still exploring other options, including A.J. However, if in fact we wind up with Tyler as the opening day catcher, we think that we will not lose anything defensively and we have a good young hitter capable of hitting for power and getting on base fairly regularly.

Pierzynski is coming off his best hitting season as a big leaguer. He set a career-high with 27 home runs and tied a career-high with 77 RBIs. Flowers finished with seven homers, 13 RBIs and a large blank space of the unknown.

What kind of numbers can he produce as an everyday catcher?

I have no idea, Flowers admitted. Ive never had the chance to play every day. I kind of think thats what Im hoping to get the chance to do. Everyone would find out at the same time. Id like to think I could do better than Ive done as a backup. Playing every day is a lot different than playing twice a week.

"It gives you a chance to do some things, work on things, tweak some things, instead of trying to get in position once a week to say, Hey, I better get a hit today. This is my one chance in seven days. I better make it count. When you know youre playing tomorrow, that changes the math, that chances your mind-set, that changes everything. I cant really put any numbers on it. I can tell you that Ill do better than what Ive done.

Flowers thinks the MLB Network can do better as well.

Friday, the channel aired the top 50 home runs of the 2012 season. On Aug. 15 in Toronto, Flowers crushed a homer off the Blue Jays' Aaron Laffey which might still be in the air.

It was estimated at 452 feet. Flowers thinks it traveled more than 475.

I dont know if Ill hit one again as far as I hit that one, he said.

Tyler got flooded with texts and emails from friends and family members wondering if his home run would make the list.

They all thought Id be in the top 10, said Flowers, who figured hed be somewhere around fifth, sixth or seventh. So they actually got me excited to watch it. I was like, This is pretty cool.

That was until Flowers watched the whole show -- and his home run didnt even make the program.

So then I had to deal with all the repurcussions of all my friends saying, What the heck?" Flowers explained. Does the home run not count because it was in a different country or something? Maybe they dont air Canadian home runs. Im not sure.

So Monday morning, Flowers sent an email to MLB Network -- half-joking, but definitely half-serious.

I dont appreciate the embarrassment for not including my home run, Flowers wrote.

As of Monday evening, Flowers had not heard back from MLB Network, but one of its on-air talent wanted to express his deepest apologies to the White Sox catcher.

If I have to go to human resources, Mr. Flowers, we will get that taken care of, said Dan Plesac, MLB Network analyst and former analyst at Comcast SportsNet. I dont make the decisions on the longest home runs, but anything to do with the White Sox, Ill go ahead and pull the strings if I have to!

If Plesac is tight with the White Sox front office, maybe he can pull some strings there, too.

Luis Robert's legend grows, suggesting White Sox should ready for superstardom

Luis Robert's legend grows, suggesting White Sox should ready for superstardom

The legend of La Pantera grew even larger Saturday. And he made it seem rather mundane.

"I was sitting on a soft pitch on the outside, and then this pitch was in and I had to react and swing the bat, and I think that was why I fell when I hit the ball."

Luis Robert's description of the event dramatically undersold what happened. The dude homered while he was falling down.


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Of course, Robert makes everything look easy. Why wouldn't he make it all sound easy, too?

The truth is that the much hyped Robert can do just about everything on the baseball field, and that apparently now includes sending a ball over the fence while simultaneously toppling to the ground in a somewhat cartoonish fashion. If you didn't think the hype train could move at a higher speed after he thrilled minor league audiences last season with a true five-tool display, then you weren't prepared for the highlight from Saturday's intrasquad game on the South Side that caught like wildfire across the baseball-loving sections of the internet.

Robert's arrival in the major leagues, however delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is part of the reason the White Sox look capable of making their long awaited leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode this season. He's being described as the best of the team's collection of talented youngsters and talked up as one of baseball's next superstars.

The best part of all of that for the White Sox?

"I'm glad he's on my team," said pitcher Carlos Rodón, who had the unfortunate distinction of being the guy who gave up that bananas home run.

Indeed he is on this team, and thanks to the big-money deal that paved his way to the Opening Day lineup, Robert is going to be on this team for a long time. A pair of options at the end of that contract allow for Robert to remain in a White Sox uniform through the 2027 season. Rick Hahn's always talking about keeping this team in contention mode for as long as possible. Inking Robert's name into the projected lineup for the next eight seasons surely helps.

"I'm smiling from ear to ear," White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said Saturday. "We are as an organization because we are going to have an opportunity to see this for a long period of time.

"He's an individual who you pay to go watch play. ... You can come to the ballpark and understand he has a chance to do something special every day in every aspect of his game, whether it's running, playing defense, throwing, hitting.

"What he did today, ... I saw him sitting on the ground and I was like, 'Run, run, run!' and then I realized the ball was 15 rows deep. He's a pretty special talent, and we are fortunate and lucky to have him on our side."

The question, though, doesn't seem to be how good Robert will be one day but how good he'll be from Day 1.

RELATED: 2020 White Sox lineup: This looks like what it could be come Opening Day

Robert was expected to have a full six months in his first taste of the big leagues, expected to have time to make the kinds of adjustments Eloy Jiménez did as a rookie last season, when he started slowly only to catch fire for a white-hot month of September. Robert won't have that luxury, with the season squeezed down from its typical six-month marathon to a two-month, 60-game sprint.

But Robert doesn't seem to view that as much of a problem. Like the uber-talented White Sox youngsters who have arrived on the South Side before him, he's a confident kid. And while he's not going as far as Jiménez did in January, when the left fielder called his new center fielder "the next Mike Trout," Robert's expecting to be able to hit the ground running while seeing big league pitching for the first time.

"I am feeling very confident," he said Saturday through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I feel real good right now, mentally and physically, and I think that is important. I think that's why I have been able to get the results that I've been having during this time.

"Being here facing major league pitchers, even though they are my teammates, has helped me a lot because that's an advantage for me to know what I'm going to face once the season starts.

"I don't know if I think about doing extraordinary things. I just think in terms of doing the best that I can in every aspect of the game, in every play that I'm involved in. And I think that's the reason why I've been able to do very good things. That's the reason why, I just try to do my best every time."

RELATED: What Michael Kopech skipping season means for White Sox in 2020 and beyond

Robert's presence is just one of a whole bunch of reasons the White Sox appear primed for a big jump in 2020. He's part of a remade lineup featuring veteran additions Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara. He's one of two highly touted prospects who could take over starting roles this season, along with Nick Madrigal. He's the newest addition to a White Sox core that already had its breakout season a year ago, when Jiménez, Yoán Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson did such big things.

And this is just the beginning. So many of those guys are under team control for years into the future. And so even if Robert and the White Sox don't rise to the level of World Series contenders in 2020, they're planning to do it soon — and stay there for a long while.

How good can Robert be during that stretch? The consensus seems to be that the sky is the limit. And if his wardrobe choice for his Saturday session with reporters, a LeBron James jersey, was any indication, the South Side could be in for larger-than-life superstardom.

"I think that every athlete has that in mind," he said, asked if he had designs on being as good as James, one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. "When you see what other athletes have done, whatever the sport they’re playing, it’s something that you use to motivate yourself."


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Luis Robert hits home run while falling down during White Sox intrasquad game

Luis Robert hits home run while falling down during White Sox intrasquad game

They say Luis Robert can do it all.

Who knows how often he'll be called upon to hit a home run while falling down, but it turns out he can do that, too.

Robert lifted a Carlos Rodón pitch out of Guaranteed Rate Field during Saturday's intrasquad game on the South Side. While it was happening, or perhaps immediately afterward, he fell over and landed on the other side of home plate.

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Worrywarts have no need to panic, he got right up, picked up his batting helmet and trotted around the bases. The next inning, he returned to his spot in center field.

So instead of a terrifying moment, the White Sox rookie delivered a kooky — and frankly, kind of amazing — highlight for the ages.

And so his legend grows.

Robert has already been the player to command the most fan interest during "Summer Camp" workouts. He heads into his first big league season as the most hyped White Sox prospect in recent memory, topping the excitement levels generated by the debuts of Eloy Jiménez, Michael Kopech and Yoán Moncada.

All that buzz comes after he thrilled minor league crowds last season with a combination of tape-measure home runs, blazing speed and highlight-reel catches in center field. That jam-packed toolbox has evaluators labeling him as the best of the White Sox collection of talented youngsters, and he's already being talked about as the game's next superstar.

"I see or hear all of that stuff," Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo earlier this week. "I try to not pay attention to that. I know what I can do, and sometimes if you hear all that stuff, you’re going to have more pressure on you. And that might not be good for you because there is more. It’s good if people say that, but I just try to not pay too much attention to it.

"My expectations and goals are always the same. Give 100 percent, always, on the field, help the team as much as I can and hopefully go to the postseason. And if I’m lucky enough, maybe win the Rookie of the Year. Those are my goals, and if I stay healthy I feel confident I can do that."

RELATED: White Sox rookie Luis Robert confident in 'pretty hot' start to his '20 season

Robert has some challenges in this most unusual of baseball seasons. While getting his first taste of major league pitching, he was expected to have a full six months to make any necessary adjustments. Instead, he'll have just 60 games. Jiménez showed how useful having an entire season can be, starting slowly during his rookie campaign in 2019 only to figure things out in time for a white-hot month of September. If Robert doesn't catch fire immediately, he might not have the time to adjust before the season's almost over.

But that's not worrying Robert too much.

"If, for whatever reason, I don’t start the season as hot as I know I can, I will do my best to make the adjustments as fast as I can," he said. "But of course that’s not my mindset right now.

"I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to start the season pretty hot and display all my talent. I will have to adjust as much as I can if I have any trouble."

After seeing what he did Saturday, maybe he's right.


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