Former Texas high school star Courtney Hawkins famously performed a back flip after being drafted this past year. And now, it’s easy to see why: The Chicago White Sox top prospect has a lot to be excited about.
The 19-year-old [as of November] outfielder was drafted 13th overall in June and by the season‘s end, he was playing for High-A Winston-Salem. Prior to inking his contract, he was honored as the Texas High School Player of the Year. Hawkins talked about his introduction to professional baseball — and his athleticism — during the last week of this past season.
David Laurila: Has it sunk in that you’re playing pro ball?
Courtney Hawkins: I’d say it’s like a dream. I’m still kind of shocked right now, playing in High-A. Everything is moving fast, but I like it. I like the speed of the game and I’m just out there playing ball and having fun.
Since I’ve been here — since I moved up — I’ve learned so much. You can tell the difference in the level of competition, so it’s a huge adjustment.
DL: When did you begin to realize you were going to be good enough to play professionally?
CH: It’s been my dream ever since I was a young kid. In a way, it was in my head then, but it really started sinking in around my freshman year of high school. That, or maybe my sophomore year.
When I was a freshman, I made the USA Team. I was a pitcher all the way up until my junior year. That’s when I switched over to being more of a hitter.
DL: You’ve been clocked in the low-90s. Were there discussions about your future position?
CH: With [Chicago], it was always, hands down, hitting. Other teams, it was pitching and hitting — some pitching — but with the White Sox, they told me it would be hitting.
DL: Which teams were interested in you as a pitcher?
CH: I couldn’t even tell you right now. A lot of teams were going back and forth. I was going with the flow, but I wanted to hit. I guess most teams wanted me for hitting.
DL: When did you know the White Sox were going to draft you?
CH: Four minutes before they called my name. I did know they were probably interested. I was in the Double Duty Classic [a tournament held at U.C. Cellular Field] a couple of times and had a good relationship with Keith Staab, the scout that saw me. I met a lot of the representatives when everybody came down.
DL: How surprised are you to have been promoted from Bristol to Kannapolis to Winston-Salem?
CH: I’m not so much shocked, but more just happy, excited, and glad that I have.
DL: You hit better in [Low-A] Kannapolis than you did in [rookie-level] Bristol.
CH: Exactly. As you move up, you start seeing guys who are more around the zone. The game is faster, but not too much. There’s a better level of defense and you can tell the level of play is better. But that’s good; I enjoy it. Same way here in Winston-Salem. The pitching is a lot better — they’re in the zone and hit their spots — but that makes you develop into a better hitter. You lay off the bad stuff and hit the mistakes.
DL: Baseball America’s draft preview said you fit the profile of a power-hitting right fielder. Do you see yourself that way?
CH: I’d like to stay in centerfield as long as I can, but as long as I’m playing ball, it doesn’t bother me. I’ll play left, righ, or anywhere. I love centerfield, but the outfield is the outfield. I’m going to go wherever they tell me to play.
DL: When you did the back flip on draft night, it was almost like you were sending a message that you’re not a stereotypical corner outfielder, you’re an athlete.
CH: Exactly, exactly.
DL: What is your approach at the plate?
CH: I’m always thinking up-the-middle, dead-away center. That’s my approach every time: dead-away center or up the gaps. If the pitcher makes a mistake in, then I pull.
DL: Is most of your power to the pull side?
CH: I think I have power to all fields. I’ve hit home runs to center, left, right. Mainly they’ve been to left-center.
DL: Are you concerned with strikeouts?
CH: I watch Major League Baseball every day, and I see big leaguers strike out. They’re going to be in the game. Strikeouts happen. I go up there and if the pitcher is better than me in that at bat, I’ll come up in my next at bat and try to get him that time. You’re going to be upset about it, but you shake it off and try to win the next battle.
DL: Could you see yourself on the mound in pro ball?
CH: I’m not sure, but I know I could go out and pitch. I know I have the ability and stuff. If I did, hopefully I’d learn and get better, like I am with hitting. I’m a better hitter now than I was a month ago. I like to think I’m a better hitter than I was yesterday. I like learning and am taking stuff in, day by day.