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Flowers' power blooming in AFL

Flowers' power blooming in AFL

ATLANTA -- At first sight, Tyler Flowers is an imposing figure. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 230 pounds, the Braves prospect looks like a bruising fullback who could provide crushing blows to opposing linebackers.

But with his football days in the past, Flowers now is making a habit out of crushing fastballs. At the same time, the 22-year-old catcher is proving he has the ability to consistently make a solid first impression.

During his first experience in Major League camp earlier this year, Flowers wowed Braves manager Bobby Cox with his sheer power. In fact, at one point Cox proclaimed, "He hits the ball probably as hard as anybody we've got."

Flowers continued to show that power while hitting 17 homers with a .494 slugging percentage at advanced Class A Myrtle Beach this past season. Now given a chance to prove himself against advanced competition in the Arizona Fall League, the young catcher is once again making an immediate impression.

During his first four games with the Mesa Solar Sox, Flowers went 4-for-11 with a double and a triple. Other Braves playing for the Solar Sox this year include top pitching prospect Tommy Hanson, Deunte Heath, Stephen Marek and Kris Medlen, Matt Young and Van Pope.

During his first two starts with the Sox, Hanson has 4 2/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and three walks. Marek, a right-handed reliever who was obtained with Casey Kotchman in the trade that sent Mark Teixeira to the Angels, has worked three scoreless innings.

While Hanson and Medlen, who has allowed two earned runs in the first five innings he's tossed for the Sox, are the most highly-regarded Braves pitchers currently competing in Arizona, Marek and Heath seemingly also have bright futures.

Double-A Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman saw enough from Marek to gain the belief that the 25-year-old reliever will someday make it to the Majors. As for Heath, Wellman described him as a hard-throwing hurler with impressive raw talent.

"He probably has the best arm [on the Mississippi team]," Wellman said in September. "But he's the least polished. He just needs some time."

During the Arizona Fall League last year, Jordan Schafer legitimized himself as a top pitching prospect, and Charlie Morton made the strides that allowed him to land in Atlanta this year.

Schafer's ascent to the Majors this year was delayed when he was handed a 50-game suspension for the use of HGH (human growth hormone). But the 22-year-old top prospect finished strong with Mississippi, and he's currently attempting to further prove himself in the Mexican Winter League.

One of Schafer's teammates with the Navojoa team is Eric Campbell, who has stumbled since the Braves made him their first selection in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. But the 23-year-old infielder did hit 19 homers while batting .255 for Myrtle Beach this past season.

Gorkys Hernandez, a 21-year-old outfielder the Braves obtained from the Tigers last October, will play for the Anzoategui club in the Venezuelan Winter League this year. Hernandez hit .264 and was successful with 20 of his 24 stolen base attempts this past season with Myrtle Beach.

Kala Ka'aihue, a strong first baseman who spent this past season with Mississippi, is playing in his native state in the Hawaiian Winter League. Other Braves playing in Hawaii this year are Michael Broadway and Jonathan Venters.

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

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