Hawkins reflects on uneven first full year in Minors
Top White Sox prospect calls 2013 season 'big learning experience for me'
CHICAGO -- Before there was Jose Abreu, prior to Avisail Garcia's arrival via a three-team deal at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, there was Courtney Hawkins carrying the hopes and the hype of White Sox position player prospects.
Hawkins hasn't exactly dropped off the map after an uneven first full Minor League season.
Not when he doesn't turn 20 until Tuesday. Not when his 2013 stint with Class A Winston-Salem, where he hit .178 with 160 strikeouts over 383 at-bats despite launching 19 homers and driving in 62, arguably helped him more than it hurt.
"Looking back, there were ups and downs. But it was a big learning experience for me," said Hawkins, speaking recently to MLB.com during the end of instructional league action in Arizona. "I finally got a full season under my belt, so I know what I have to do to be prepared for and how to come into the season.
"So, it's basically going to be a lot of non-stop working out. I might just take a little bit of time off but not much at all."
When pressed for what Hawkins learned from the first bout of struggles in his short baseball career, he smiled and said, "it's a long season." Hawkins burst on the Minor League scene in 2012 after hitting .284 with eight homers, 15 doubles, 11 stolen bases and 33 RBIs over stops at Rookie-level Bristol, Class A Kannapolis and 17 at-bats with Winston-Salem, after being selected 13th overall in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Those White Sox coaches and executives who dealt with Hawkins described him as having a big league attitude to go with his big league caliber talent. That attitude certainly wasn't considered a negative or born out of arrogance but more out of fun, intense energy and a feeling that he immediately belonged.
While dealing with unexpected failure temporarily can deflate even the highest level of confidence, it certainly didn't have anything close to a lasting effect on Hawkins. He was having fun with his teammates at Camelback Ranch and anxious to begin the next stop on his development journey, without a hint of worry present.
"It's still there," said Hawkins concerning his high level of confidence. "I had a little setback this year, but I'm still ready to go and full of confidence and know what I'm able to do and capable of doing.
"As far as performance-wise, I wouldn't say it was a setback, but that was on me. I look back at it and I could have done a lot of things different. I could have changed a lot of things. It's always going to be could have, should or if I would have done this. But it's over and done with and I just have to move forward.
"I understand it's a long season, and I need to take stuff day by day and at-bat by at-bat and play by play and don't get too caught up on everything else in the future," Hawkins said. "Let stuff come to you."
Learning the strike zone stands as a focus for the outfielder, who also battled through a left rotator cuff strain that cost him much of May. Hawkins clearly understands that knowledge of said strike zone comes with experience, and he's just 612 at-bats into his professional career.
Carolina League pitchers went after Hawkins with a steady diet of offspeed pitches and got the young slugger to expand his zone, trying to hit their pitches. So patience is the watchword, learned by Hawkins in a league that many pundits believe was above his level of preparedness. Hawkins doesn't share that same theory.
"I'd rather have to work through struggles then try to just be in a calm place, just trying to stay mellow the whole time," Hawkins said. "I would rather went through what I went through. I'm happy where I was. I'm happy they put me at that spot.
"And I still say it's nothing on them. It was my season. It's my career to do what I need to do. It was on me if it went great or went bad.
"I'm still here. I wasn't shaken. I'm still ready to go," said Hawkins, flashing that confident smile once again. "I'm still ready to keep playing as hard as I can."
MLB.com has Hawkins ranked as the White Sox No. 1 prospect, and Hawkins remains the only White Sox prospect situated in the Top 100 across baseball. At this point, Hawkins doesn't care.
His goal falls in the improvement category under the watchful eyes of the White Sox and not worry about other people's projections.
"You control your game as far as what you have to do, but you can't control what everybody else puts on you or how they expect stuff to go. It comes with it," said Hawkins, who admitted to being driven a bit by those rankings early last year. "You just go through the season and learn you have to play your game. You can't worry about everything else outside of it. You just got to go out and just keep proving that you should be there.
"Whatever they tell me to do, I'm going to do. If they want me to change something, fix something, stay the same, that's what I'm going to do. I feel like this season I actually understand what it takes and what day by day means. Don't let stuff get too caught up on you and don't try to play for something that's later on down the road. Just play for right now."