Last year, if you spoke to Chicago White Sox prospect Courtney Hawkins, you heard him talk the talk, but by his own admission, he was not walking the walk.
You know the tried and true baseball clichés concerning taking it one day at a time? There’s a reason why coaches and players make a point of drowning sound bites with those phrases. More than any other sport, baseball rewards those who can shorten their memory and live in the present.
“From the day I was drafted (they) would tell me that, but I would always think, ‘Double-A, Triple-A’ … I would always be getting ahead of myself, instead of worrying about where I’m at now and worrying about how to excel,” Hawkins said Wednesday following Winston-Salem’s 4-2 victory at Salem in Carolina League action.
The White Sox drafted Hawkins with the 13th overall pick of the 2012 draft, out of the same Mary Carroll High Tigers program (Corpus Christi) that produced Brooks Kieschnick. They can be blamed in part for Hawkins not fully digesting that philosophy. From the moment they signed Hawkins, they fast-tracked him from Bristol (Appalachian League) to Kannapolis (South Atlantic) to Winston-Salem in 2012.
At 19, he played all of 2013 at High-A, which is a lot to ask of any player under 20. As a result, Hawkins got his first taste of adversity. Though he delivered 19 home runs and 38 extra-base hits, Hawkins mustered a .178 batting average and struck out a whopping 160 times in 425 plate appearances.
All the while, Hawkins talked the talk that the White Sox expected of him. He continued to carry himself as an elite prospect and said all the right things about taking each day as it came.
The White Sox, however, realized despite his words, he was doing the opposite.
“He’s got to slow it down,” director of player development Nick Capra told the Chicago media in January. “He wants to be on the fast track, but for him, you’ve got to do what you’re doing today and not look in the future, not look for tomorrow. Play the game today, evaluate what you’ve done today, come back and do it tomorrow.”
In retrospect, Hawkins agrees the lesson had not been fully absorbed.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I wasn’t saying that. I was,” Hawkins said. “As far as me understanding? I might have said that last year, that I take stuff day-by-day, but I didn’t understand what that means.
“Now, when I go into a game, I’m not worried about anything else other than when I’m on the field, that pitch. When that pitch is over, I’m over it,” he continued. “Swing-and-miss, error, whatever it is, it’s over with. The next pitch is coming and you’ve got another pitch, always. That pitch didn’t end the world. You’ll always have another pitch to swing at. You’ll always get another at-bat.”
Hawkins paused, then smiled.
“That,” he said, “is taking it day-by-day.”
Coming into 2014, Hawkins had played a rough full-season MLB equivalent 161 games. In all, he had swatted 27 home runs, 35 doubles and six triples, but also fanned 224 times while posting a .224 batting average.
Six games into 2014, Hawkins is batting .391. While he continues to strike out at last season’s pace, there’s no denying he has improved his eye and is beginning to catch on to the offspeed pitches that caused him so much grief in the past.
Tuesday night, he was 3 of 5 and drove in five runs. He also launched his third home run of the season, a moonshot that vanished into the night beyond the tall left field fence at Salem’s LewisGale Field. Wednesday he doubled and walked as the Dash handed Salem its first loss of the season.
Following the game, Hawkins said he is no longer worrying about being on a fast track to Chicago or even trying to catch the eye of the organization in order to jump to Double-A. Rather, he is embracing the moment.
“It’s about being comfortable and not getting ahead of yourself. You do that and stuff starts falling into place,” he said. “At the same time, it’s about maturing in the game. The more at-bats you see, the better you get. Last year, I don’t think it really was about me getting out matched. It was about me getting ahead of myself and trying to do too much.
“This year, I’m comfortable in the box and I’m not trying to do too much. I’m learning the situations, taking what they give you,” he continued. “If it was last year, I’d pop up and get a run in, but I’d still be mad at myself. I fly out now and a run comes in, I’m not worried about that at-bat. I did my job or did a job to get a run in and help the team out.”
So far, so good. That’s all that matters to Hawkins … and this time, he knows what that means.
“That’s my approach,” he said. “Every day now.”