You do not have to tell Chicago White Sox prospect Courtney Hawkins about the lofty expectations that have been placed on his mammoth shoulders.
He sees how fans of all ages have practically begged for his autographed at Spring Training. He hears fathers and sons comparing his massive frame to that of Frank Thomas. He shakes his head in disgust every time he lives up to the label of being an undisciplined hitter.
Entering his first big league camp, Hawkins is known more for his backflip on draft day in 2012 than his production on the field. Being around Hawkins at SoxFest earlier this winter and now in Glendale, one can notice the routine he has crafted when asked about that “incident”.
No matter the age or gender of the person asking the question, when they first see Hawkins they have to ask about that flip. The dialogue remains the same to this day.
The awe-struck individual who is either trying to be funny or just make conversation asks about the flip as well as if Hawkins will ever do it again. The 21-year-old responds with any variation of the same message that he will never do it again because he does not want to be fined.
If you were asked the same question countless times I am sure your enthusiasm would dwindle on each occasion. Instead, Hawkins continues to respond with as much emotion as the time that he was asked the question for the first time. Still, the outfielder hopes that one day that story will be a footnote in his professional career.
When Hawkins was drafted three years ago, scouts raved about his power but said that he is a strike-out machine. In order to ever succeed at the major league level, he would have to do what Dayan Viciedo could never master on the Southside which is to improve his plate discipline.
Since being drafted, Hawkins has never reached a level higher than High-A. In both of his full seasons down on the farm he has exceeded 140 strikeouts. Just like Viciedo when he started his journey to the majors, Hawkins swings at pitches that are in the dirt and those that seem to fly ten feet over his head. Unlike “Tank”, Hawkins has started to develop improved discipline at the plate.
In 2013 Hawkins’ slash was a measly .178/.249/.384. Not only did he strike out 160 times, he struggled with simply putting the ball in play. Some questioned if he could pick up any off-speed pitches due to his ability to only really connect on fastballs.
Entering into 2014 nobody was ready to call Hawkins a bust, but there were some murmurs on if he would be ready for the majors in the near future.
Last year, while being at High-A Winston-Salem for a second straight full season, Hawkins struck out on 143 occasions while playing in 19 more contests than the year before. His walk total went from 29 to 53 which is not tremendous but does showcase his improvement. What was most impressive was his .249/.331/.450 slash which highlighted the strides he made as an all-around hitter over the course of a year.
It is highly doubtful that Hawkins wins the 4th outfielder job this spring. Manager Robin Ventura will most likely run him out there until the middle of the month before assigning him to minor league camp. Still, this experience is incredibly valuable for all parties involved.
Hawkins gets a taste of big league pitching and perform in a way that has a lasting positive effect on the organization’s decision makers. He made a favorable first-impression with his massive homer last week. The organization on the other hand has an opportunity to see where Hawkins is in his development process and where to assign him when camp breaks.
While it is unlikely that Hawkins makes his major league debut in 2015, if he continues to take strides this season, 2017 is a realistic goal.
For now though, Hawkins is just focusing on giving fans something else to talk about whenever they see him.