Minor League Report: Tyler Flowers

Minor League Report: Tyler Flowers

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tyler Flowers arrived at his first Major League camp as a relatively unknown non-roster invitee. Three weeks later, he's caught the attention of Braves manager Bobby Cox and most anybody else who has seen him take batting practice.

"He hits the ball probably as hard as anybody we've got," said Braves manager Bobby Cox of the 22 year-old catcher, who will likely play at high Class A Myrtle Beach this season.

Flowers, who hit .298 with 12 homers and a .488 slugging percentage with Class A Rome in 2007, has a goal to be a catcher at the Major League level. But he played some first base while overcoming a knee ailment last year, and with the lack of depth the Braves have at that position, he may find himself spending more time there in the future.

Braves coaches were so impressed with Flowers that they convinced Cox to put him in the starting lineup as the designated hitter for Wednesday's game against the Indians. He's recorded three hits, including a homer, in his first eight Grapefruit League at-bats.

Along with outstanding strength, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Flowers also possesses a good fundamental swing. Cox has marveled at the young catcher's ability to keep his shoulders compact to hit pitches to the opposite field.

"I might be out of my mind," Cox said of his early thoughts on Flowers, "but I like what I see."

Outfield depth: The Braves still haven't decided who they're going to keep in the Majors to serve as their fourth outfielder. But whatever happens, the organization feels it will have talented outfielders at both Triple-A Richmond and Double-A Mississippi.

"Our Double-A and Triple-A depth in the outfield is going to be outstanding," said Braves general manager Frank Wren, who increased the organization's outfield depth with the offseason acquisitions of Josh Anderson and Gorkys Hernandez.

While Hernandez is still a few years away from the Majors, Anderson, who was acquired from the Astros, has a legit chance to begin the season as Atlanta's fourth outfielder. If that's the case, the Richmond outfield could consist of Brandon Jones, Joe Borchard and Gregor Blanco, who has some Braves coaches believing he's Major League-ready.

Top prospect Jordan Schafer should headline the Mississippi outfield.

Bueno control: Francisley Bueno will likely begin this season in the Minors. But the 27-year-old Cuban left-hander might find himself in the Atlanta bullpen this year. Cox has been impressed with his control.

Bueno, who has primarily been used as a starter in the Minors, has registered 180 strikeouts and issued just 48 walks in the 212 innings he's completed during his professional career. The negative against him is that he's surrendered 228 hits during that span.

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In his 108 2/3 innings at Mississippi last year, opponents hit .293 against him. Left-handed hitters produced a .325 (40-for-123) batting average. He surrendered a .281 (93-for-331) batting average to right-handers.

Reunited Bruins: Richmond pitching coach Guy Hansen and Richmond hitting coach Chris Chambliss first met four decades ago while playing together at UCLA. Chambliss has returned to the Braves organization this year for the first time since serving as Richmond's manager in 1992.

Class of '07: When the Braves took Dennis Dixon out of the University of Oregon last summer, they didn't know he was going to evolve into a Heisman Trophy candidate. Nor could they envision that his Heisman hopes would be erased by the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in late November.

While the Braves would still like to see Dixon in their system, they are getting the impression that he's interested in pursuing a career in professional football. His thoughts could change based on the interest he receives during next month's NFL Draft.

What they're saying: "I'm just trying to soak up as much as I can and get better every day. That's really what it's all about." -- Schafer regarding the first few weeks of his first big league camp

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.