Like White Sox, prospect Hawkins a work in progress
Outfielder's 2013 struggles and future upside symbolic of franchise as whole
CHICAGO -- Courtney Hawkins stands as somewhat of a symbol for the White Sox organization in its current incarnation.
By enduring through and adjusting from a rough 2013 campaign, the future hopefully will feature a higher level of sustained success.
The soon-to-be 20-year-old outfielder already sits atop MLB.com's latest Top 20 White Sox prospect list, holding down the same lofty perch he did before the 2013 season began. His present on-field performance, at least statistically, has not completely backed up that ranking.
In 332 at-bats for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, playing in the talent-rich Carolina League, Hawkins has fanned 142 times. He has a .190 average, despite hitting a combined .284 over stops in Rookie-level Bristol, Class A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem after he was taken 13th overall in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Hawkins has knocked out 19 homers and driven in 62 on the good-news side of the ledger. The better news is that one uneven year only has strengthened his resolve.
"I know what I'm capable of doing," Hawkins told MLB.com by phone, as he was making the bus ride to a weekend game against Frederick. "So do the White Sox."
This current White Sox season has been difficult. Even with three straight weekend wins over the Twins at Target Field and a 9-5 mark over the past 14 games, they sit at a disappointing 49-74 overall.
An overall subpar showing for a team entering 2013 with playoff aspirations has pushed general manager Rick Hahn into White Sox reshaping mode. Veterans such as Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios have moved to contenders, with talented prospects coming back along with a bit of payroll flexibility.
Avisail Garcia probably would have supplanted Hawkins as the club's No. 1 prospect if not for the fact that big league service time took away his rookie status and precludes him from being eligible for the list. Garcia's five-tool talent has been on display for the White Sox since Rios was traded to the Rangers on Aug. 9, as he's shown off the sort of electric ability that can rejuvenate the American League's lowest-scoring offense.
"There are a handful of guys around, but not a whole lot, who are as big as he is, strong as he is, have the ability to stay inside the baseball, drive the ball up the middle and stay within his swing, as well as go out there on defense," White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams said of Garcia. "I don't know if you've had a chance to see him throw yet, but he can throw, too. He's an exciting player."
While talking about the Rios trade, Leury Garcia falls in the same service time category as Garcia that keeps him off the Top 20. The player to be named later from the Rangers should be a solid utility infielder with his plus defense and plus speed, but he could amount to more if his offense progresses.
Minor League infielder Cleuluis Rondon and pitchers Francelis Montas and Jeffrey Wendelken also made the move from Boston to the White Sox, as did outfielder Brandon Jacobs. The first three fall in the earlier development stage, but Jacobs has raw Major League ability.
At the very least, Hahn now has greater depth in the system to make moves that could shore up other areas on the team.
Jacobs joins a highly-touted group of White Sox outfield prospects that serves as the crown jewel within a much-beleaguered system. The group made up of Hawkins, Jared Mitchell, Trayce Thompson and Keenyn Walker ideally would contribute at the big league level sooner than later, with 2014 serving as a possible if not slightly far-reaching expectation for one or two of the group.
That projection has been slightly altered, with Thompson's .231 average standing as the highest of the bunch. Williams stressed earlier last week that some of the organization's targeted development process has caused the struggles, with the White Sox focused on teaching and long-term staying power upon big league arrival, as opposed to big Minor League numbers.
"Even with all of that, there's still some performances that are subpar, and guys have to make some adjustments in the offseason, because we're disappointed," Williams said.
Criticism has been thrown in the White Sox direction for putting a player such as Hawkins at too high of a competition level. He was playing high school baseball a little more than one year ago, so the argument goes, but it's an explanation that doesn't rate with Hawkins.
Hawkins would have been challenged and promoted quickly if he had started the season at Kannapolis and put up impressive numbers. He actually delivers a refreshing opinion on his struggles, learning much more about the game through a first taste of failure than he ever had before.
It's a similar theory applied to the White Sox concerning what they know about the team as a whole after this challenging season.
"I've never struck out this much in my life, and I worried about it at first. It was about me trying to do too much and getting myself out," said Hawkins, who also was sidelined by a left rotator cuff strain in 2013. "I was going to the plate hoping not to strike out, and you can't have that attitude. You have to focus on hitting your pitch, and not the pitch the pitcher wants you to handle.
"Home runs are there. The RBIs are there. Once I get to that spot where I'm doing it consistently, all that is just going to increase. Honestly, it's a grind. It could have been better, but everything is good."