Prospect Q&A: White Sox Outfielder Courtney Hawkins on His Breakout First Summer in Pro Ball, Other Stuff

Courtney Hawkins talks like you might think he would. At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, he has a deep, sure-sounding voice. And at 19 years old, he’s prone to talking like a teen — or at least like a top prospect who has been around the interview circuit. You may notice below his use of “Like I said,” on his first mention of topics, almost like he’s answered the same questions all winter long.

Here’s why I and others want to learn more about Hawkins (aside from his back-flip ability, which he explains below): The Texan was the 13th overall pick in the 2012 Draft and, after a very good first pro season (stats here), he is already MLB.com’s No. 68 prospect and the top-ranked farmhand in the White Sox’s system. (It could be argued that he had the best summer debut of any ’12 draftee this side of the A’s Addison Russell.)

I caught up with Hawkins last week, just after he completed a month-plus of working out in Florida and was driving from his home in Corpus Christi, Texas to Houston — the burly slugger leaves for Minor League camp on Tuesday, Feb. 19. And I heard that deep, sure-sounding voice, or a muffled version of it on his speaker phone, but we talked a lot about listening. Turns out, Hawkins did a lot of that last summer.

“Don’t rush stuff. Take it day by day,” he says of the constant advice from fellow Chicago farmhand Jared Mitchell, who just happened to be Prospect Uniformed earlier today. “I’ll say something like, ‘Man, I’m ready to go.’ And he’ll say, ‘You just need to relax and play the game.'”

Mitchell, of course, was in 2009 where Hawkins is today: highly-touted outfielder with loads of potential yet to be realized.

(Matt Burton/MiLB.com)

(Matt Burton/MiLB.com)

On his Draft-day back flip: “Everyone always asks me this, and I love telling the real story: I was sitting there, celebrating with my friends and, I forgot her name, but the lady who was there [interviewing me] came up to me and asked, ‘Can you do a back flip?’ I was like, ‘Whaaat?’ She was like, ‘If I ask you to do a back-flip [on-air], can you do it?’ I was like, ‘Uhhh, I guess. Really?’ It wasn’t me just doing it. It was her asking, and I was like, ‘Sure, no problem.'”

On his offseason: “It’s different. Like I said, normally, it’s year-round baseball for me, and now I’ve finally got a chance for a little break. I have been lifting hard, and working out hard. I’m in a lot better shape than when [the winter] started. The goal is to get bigger, better, stronger, faster — that’s everything. I got stronger. I toned up. I lost some bad weight and put on some good weight. I was 225 [pounds]. I’m about 235 now. I’m still able to move pretty good.”

On his football size helping him in baseball: “Some people think it’s bad. Some people think it’s good. To me, if I can stay strong and, with my size, stay flexible, I’m good, you know? As long as I can still run, throw and swing the bat, I think I’ll be alright.”

On his debut season, a 60-game campaign in 2012: “Like I said, it was my first time stepping out on the field as a Minor Leaguer in pro ball. Like I said, I loved the experience. I loved the atmosphere. Moving up was great. That’s one of the best things I remember about it. To me, I felt I did better as I moved up. I just took it day by day to make sure I enjoyed it.”

(Roger Peterson)

(Roger Peterson)

On adjustments he made to have success at the plate: “The hitting coaches worked with me a lot. It wasn’t so much changing my swing too much even though it was a little bit. It was more about my approach, what I was looking for, and that really helped me. Especially our hitting instructor in High-A [Winston-Salem] Gary Ward, he helped me a lot. Him [hitting coach Rob] Sasser and Class A [Kannapolis], they talked to me all the time with a lot of one-on-one stuff [about] how [pitchers] were going to pitch to me. Every day, I changed something, day-to-day. If I went 0-for-3 or 1-for-3, I was trying to go 3-for-3 the next day. Every day I was trying to go 3-for-3, 4-for-4, you know? After every at-bat, I learned something different. I saw a lot of different types of pitchers and how people pitched to me. Once I got moved up, I started seeing a lot more sinkers, sinker-ball pitchers. It’s different [at every level]. Not too much, but the speed of the changes a little bit. I didn’t get as many cheap hits because the defensive tightened up. That was a big thing for me, getting moved up, the defense got a lot tighter.”

On how to learned to hit sinkers: “I listened [laughs]. ‘Wardo’ helped me out tremendously, even throughout instructs he was helping me. That’s somebody who really helped me a lot to read different pitches.”

On what he learned in his first pro experience: “I learned a lot of little things, how to respect the game. Being around older guys, they put a lot of knowledge in your head about what to do, what not to do and how to carry yourself. This is my job now, and I can’t take my job for granted. They told me how quick somebody can get traded, how somebody can get hurt, cut, sent back down, anything [can happen]. They all said I have to ball out every day to keep climbing the ladder and not go backward, you know?”

On how his quick adjustment to pro ball gives him more confidence: “Like I said, to me, I’m not the type of guy to get down if I don’t do good right off the bat. At the same time, no matter if I am facing adversity or whatever, I’m still going to go out and bust my butt, do what I got to do to get back on top.”

On whether he stays in right field: “That’s one thing that doesn’t bother me at all. As long as I’m playing ball, I’m going to be happy. No matter what position they put me at, I’m going to go out play out.”

On competing with the likes of Mitchell, Keenyn Walker and Trayce Thompson in the White Sox’s system: “I got to work [laughs]. All the guys you named, they’re in the same spot as me, and they been there a little bit longer. I got to work.”

On outfielders he enjoys watching: “Right now? A present player — I love watching Matt Kemp [of the Dodgers] and Jason Heyward [of the Braves], guys like that. Past players — I liked Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, guys like that, Manny Ramirez.”

On what he has in mind for 2013: “Like I said, just keep upping the ladder until I can’t no more.”

On how far along he is in his development: “Honestly, I don’t know. Jared Mitchell, to be with him every day for the last two months, he talked me to a lot, put a lot of stuff in my head. He explains things and tells me how things go on. He said to just play ball every day and not worry about anything else. And let it come. The ultimate goal is to get there and be a star. Everyone dreams about being an All-Star and a Hall of Famer, so I want to be there, be that guy that makes an impact and people know about.”

(Jody Stewart/Winston-Salem Dash)

(Jody Stewart/Winston-Salem Dash)

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