Like most kids from the state of Georgia, Tyler Flowers grew up wanting to be an Atlanta Brave. But unlike most of the Braves that are from the Peach State, Flowers can say his hometown team wanted him not once, but twice.
The Braves drafted Flowers out of Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell two years ago in the 27th round. He decided instead to attend Chipola Community College in Florida, and last year, after his freshman season, the Braves drafted him again, this time in the 33rd round.
"That was a surprise," Flowers said. "I'm glad that they believed in me that much. I can't say I've ever heard of that. It's flattering."
The Braves kept up with Flowers closely as he played his second season at Chipola. They retained rights to sign him as a draft and follow player, and after he finished the 2006 season as the Player of the Year in the Panhandle Conference, there was little doubt he would be a top priority.
Flowers signed a contract with the Braves Tuesday morning. He'll start his Braves' career in a few weeks when he reports to Extended Spring Training at Disney and join the Danville Braves next month in the Appalachian League.
"I feel really good about it," Flowers said late Tuesday. "It's a relief to get it over with."
Flowers is another player from the East Cobb baseball program, one of the most successful amateur programs in the country. He started playing there when he was fourteen, and he quickly became a kid known for his big stick and the ability to play multiple positions.
"In high school it was third base," Flowers said. "I started catching my senior year, so I ended up coming down here (to Chipola) as a catcher. Then last season they (the Braves) drafted me as a first baseman."
This season Flowers played only two games at first, getting the majority of his action as the Indians' catcher. He believes he's made great progress wearing the tools of ignorance as a catcher.
"I've improved a great deal," Flowers said, who turned twenty years old last January. "I never had a problem with catch and throw. I've just been working on the little things, (like) not too having much too much movement and receiving. That's just something you grow into as you get control of your staff. You just get comfortable with each other. I love catching.
With twenty-two year old Brian McCann in Atlanta, and twenty-one year old Jarrod Saltalamacchia the best catching prospect in the game currently in Double-A Mississippi, the Braves are not exactly looking for help behind the plate. And while they want Flowers to concentrate on playing first base, they have promised him he will still catch.
"I think that's what they want me to do, but they mainly want me playing first," Flowers said. "They've agreed to let me catch every third or fourth game. I love catching, but if I"ve got to play first, I'll do it. There's nothing wrong with a player that can play both positions."
"The Braves are pretty stacked at catcher. I think they believe in me catching-wise, but they've got two of the best young catchers around. I grew up playing shortstop and third, so I don't think I'll have any trouble picking it (first base) up. They're really looking for the offensive production."
Regardless of where Flowers plays in the field, the Braves feel the right-handed batter has tremendous offensive potential. This year at Chipola he hit .373 with 16 home runs and 50 runs batted in. Flowers improved greatly from his freshman season, when he hit .300 with 8 home runs and 35 runs batted in.
"I wouldn't say it was a breakout (season)," Flowers admitted. "My season last year was more of a down year. This is how I expected myself to play. I just had a down year last year. I think I was mentally a little messed up last year. I think I just matured more mentally as far as taking a better approach during at bats and not getting frustrated every time you don't do well. It all came together this season."
With his production this season, and with few first base prospects at the lower levels of their system, the Braves believed the six-foot-four, 240 pound Flowers was a must-sign. Scouts believe he might have been as high as a fifth round pick if he had gone back into the draft.
The Braves still have several draft and follow players to try and sign before the deadline, which is one week prior to the draft on June 6th. Right-handed pitcher Tommy Hanson from Riverside Community College in California, last year's 22nd round pick, is still playing, so the Braves will have to wait a while before trying to sign their top pitching priority of the draft and follow players.
But they have the top position player they wanted in Flowers, who is equally excited to be joining his favorite team.
"It's my hometown team," he said. "Who wouldn't want to be a Brave, right?"
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look at the Braves' traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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