WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—On Saturday night, facing righthander Christian Binford—the Royals’ No. 10 prospect—White Sox 2012 first-rounder Courtney Hawkins sat in a familiar hole.
Chicago’s No. 6 prospect, who whiffed 160 times in 383 at-bats (41.7 percent) last season at high Class A Winston-Salem, was down 0-1 in his third at-bat of the evening. The left fielder had struck out in both of his previous trips and had swung and missed six times already, including the first pitch of the current at-bat.
On the next pitch, Binford dealt a slider away and Hawkins was fooled, but only for an instant. Instead of flailing away for strike two, Hawkins caught himself, regrouped and pummeled the pitch deep and out to left-center field, where the masses gathered in BB&T Ballpark’s beer garden quickly and wisely scattered from the incoming missile.
It was the second home run of the year for Hawkins, a product of Carroll High in Corpus Christi, Texas. After just five games with low Class A Kannapolis toward the end of his first pro season, the White Sox aggressively jumped him to Winston-Salem, where, with each passing whiff, Hawkins’ confidence slowly wilted.
But this year, as the video above illustrates (the first half taken in 2013, the second half on Saturday night), Hawkins has closed his stance and lowered his hands. He’s also eliminated a moderate leg kick and made a mental adjustment, making a conscious effort to leave the batter’s box and clear his mind after each pitch, no matter the result.
"Last year, I don't want to think about what would have happened," Hawkins said Saturday night. "It's a new day. (I’m) taking things day-by-day and at-bat-by-at-bat, and try to keep it rolling."
Because Hawkins spent most of his time this spring working with the Double-A group, manager Tommy Thompson—new to the Dash this season—didn’t see much of him. In the limited looks he’s gotten in the season’s opening week, however, he’s quite pleased with the results.
"He's putting some good at-bats together—it looks like his approach looks cleaner," Thompson said. "He seems to be having better at-bats. He's hitting the ball good, so we just hope he continues to do that."
With the early success, the dark cloud that followed Hawkins all year seems to have dissipated. People around the team last year could tell that the pressure was getting to him. He’d blown off interviews and was generally unpleasant to be around, but that’s changed in the early going, and Hawkins is relieved to finally be enjoying coming to the park again.
"Absolutely, you've got to have some fun in this game," said Hawkins, smiling. "That's probably the best way to play, having fun."
Anderson Steals The Show
Even with Hawkins’ massive bomb, the real star of the evening was Winston-Salem shortstop Tim Anderson, a White Sox first-round selection in last year’s draft.
Anderson posted a respectable .277/.348/.363 line last year in a half-season at Kannapolis, and has started like gangbusters in 2014. On Saturday night, he was nothing short of marvelous, showing off plus tools in every category in the midst of a 3-for-4 effort against Binford and Wilmington.
Anderson, just 20 years old, opened the evening by serving an 89 mph fastball by Binford into the right-center field gap for a double. He singled sharply to left field in his next trip, and finished his day by lashing an 91 mph heater off the base of the wall in right-center for a standup triple. He reached once more on a grounder to shortstop Jack Lopez that was ruled an error but easily could have been called an infield hit.
In the field, he used smooth actions and an above-average arm to make several difficult plays look relatively easy. The best of the night came on a ball he fielded in the third baseman’s territory and still had enough time to plant and throw across for the out.
Even after watching that tour de force, Hawkins believe that’s the only the beginning of his teammate’s potential.
"He can do more than that, I'm telling you, straight up . . . he can do more than that," he said. "He has the all-around package."
As was the case with Hawkins, Thompson didn’t get to see much of Anderson in spring training. Still, he’s liked what he’s seen in a limited look.
“He’s doing some things defensively, and he had a great offensive night,” he said. “This kid’s got some talent.”
• Mariners righthander Stephen Pryor was touched up for three runs on two hits and two walks for Double-A Jackson on Sunday. It was his second rehab appearance with the Generals.
• Dodgers righty Chad Billingsley got four outs for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday, but he left the game with the trainer.
• Phillies lefty Cole Hamels pitched four innings for high Class A Clearwater on Sunday and allowed two earned runs on three hits—including two solo homers by Jays farmhand Dwight Smith Jr. He struck out four and walked none as he works his way back from shoulder fatigue.
Triple-A (organizational prospect rank in parentheses)
Tigers 2B/SS Hernan Perez (No. 9), who got a bit of big league time at the end of last year, homered off of Chien-Ming Wang on Sunday. Perez has played shortstop for Toledo through the season’s first three games . . . Twins RHP Alex Meyer opened his season at Rochester with six strikeouts in five innings against Buffalo . . . Phillies C Cam Rupp (No. 16) has three homers in his first four games with Lehigh Valley. . . . Pirates OF Gregory Polanco (No. 1) started his campaign with Indianapolis 6-for-15 and cracked his first longball of the season on Sunday against Columbus. . . . Not a prospect, per se, but worth an update nonetheless. Diamondbacks SS Didi Gregorius has played the first four games of this season with Reno at second base. In his previous 450 games, he’d played four games there . . . Rockies LHP Tyler Matzek (No. 12) struck out 11 in his season debut with Colorado Springs. That’s his highest punchout total since Aug. 22, 2012, when he fanned 10 for high Class A Modesto . . . After three hitless games, prized Cubs SS Javier Baez (No. 1) went deep on Sunday for Iowa.
Phillies RHP Kenny Giles (No. 20) has allowed a hit and walk and struck out six over his first two innings this season with Reading. He’s never lacked the stuff, and reportedly hit as high as 101 mph on Sunday against Portland. Command and health were his only issues, so the fact that he walked only one indicates progress . . . Yankees C Gary Sanchez (No. 1) hit a grand slam that capped off an 11-run inning in Trenton’s rout of New Hampshire on Sunday. . . . Pirates RHP Nick Kingham (No. 5), who moves up the depth chart now that Jameson Taillon is down for the year with Tommy John surgery, fired six shutout innings with six strikeouts for Altoona on Sunday. . . . Astros OF Delino DeShields Jr. (N0. 13) stole his fifth base of the season on Sunday. He stole 51 last year with high Class A Lancaster and has taken that blazing speed from second base to center field this season at Corpus Christi . . . Athletics RHP Raul Alcantara (No. 4), who offers a low- to mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup, needed just 90 pitches to work eight innings of one-run ball in his season debut at Midland on Sunday.
High Class A
Mariners OF Gabriel Guerrero (No. 13) cracked his first home run of the season on Sunday for High Desert. Guerrero, who signed for $400,000 in 2011, is the nephew of nine-time all-star outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who officially retired this past week. . . . Astros stud SS Carlos Correa, who was profiled by J.J. Cooper recently, went 3-for-4 with three RBIs on Sunday for Lancaster, including his first home run of the season. He hit a tidy .533 through the opening weekend. In the same game, RHP Mark Appel (No. 3), last year’s No. 1 overall pick, made his season debut and lasted just 2 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs—two earned—on three hits and two walks and fanned one . . . Yankees 3B Eric Jagielo (No. 5) collected his first hit of the season on Sunday for Tampa, a three-run homer against Lakeland.
Low Class A
Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes (No. 7) made his season debut for Peoria on Sunday. He allowed three hits, walked seven and fanned six over five innings . . . Twins RHP Kohl Stewart (No. 4) allowed two runs on two hits and a walk on Sunday in his season debut for Cedar Rapids . . . Diamondbacks OF Stryker Trahan (No. 8), who is beginning his conversion to the outfield after starting his career as a catcher, hit a two-run, go-ahead home run in South Bend’s win against Bowling Green on Sunday . . . Marlins RHP Domingo German, who possesses a plus fastball and changeup along with a sweepy curveball, fanned 10 in five innings in Greensboro’s loss to Hickory. . . . Pirates RHP Luis Heredia, who has lost considerable weight and is repeating at West Virginia, allowed four runs on six hits and two walks in a loss to Lexington . . . Rockies OF David Dahl (N0. 6), who missed virtually all of 2013 with a team suspension and later a hamstring injury, collected two hits on Sunday, including his first homer of the season . . . 18-year-old Yankees 3B Miguel Andujar (No. 18), who got a full-season gig at Charleston when Jagielo jumped to high Class A Tampa, went 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs . . . White Sox OF Trey Michalczewski (No. 19) hit an inside-the-park home run on Sunday in Kannapolis’ win against Greenville. Teammate Adam Engel (No. 22) also went deep, but his ball left the park.