It will be five years ago this summer that Hawkins did a back flip on TV to celebrate the White Sox drafting him with the 13th pick.
Now a non-roster invitee in his third year at major-league camp, Hawkins, 23, has yet to play above Double-A Birmingham, in part because injuries slowed his progress the last two seasons. Long heralded for his pure power, he hit .203 with 25 doubles, 12 homers and 137 strikeouts in 106 games with Birmingham last year.
His struggles to make consistent contact have dropped him out of the club’s top 30 prospects, but he said this week he’ll keep working to improve that as long as the Sox provide him with a job.
“I could sit there and harp on it and be upset, angry and mad at the world,” Hawkins said. “Or I can be happy that I have a job right now and I’m still playing the sport I love and doing it as a job. I’m happy and grateful and appreciate that I’m still here.”
Hawkins, who was 3-for-13 with an RBI and a strikeout, was one of five players reassigned to minor-league camp Friday in the first cuts of the spring. Catcher Zack Collins, right-hander Spencer Adams and left-handers David Holmberg and Brian Clark also were sent down.
Third-base coach Nick Capra, formerly the Sox director of player development, says the organization still recognizes Hawkins has “a world of talent,” and Capra hopes this is the year he starts to harness it.
“Sometimes when you listen to a lot of people, you don’t know what to decipher, what to keep in and what to throw out,” Capra said. “He was caught in that mode a little bit. By the time they have a few years under their belt, they have to start figuring things out for themselves, and he’s at the point in his career he’s starting to figure it out. Hopefully he runs with it.
“He’s still a young man. There’s still a lot of talent there. We’re by no means going to give up on him because there is so much talent. If he figures it out, once he does, he’s going to be a beast.”
Hawkins had a big spring in 2015, and the Sox spoke highly of the strides he was making, with then-manager Robin Ventura declaring him the most improved player.
But he was limited to 78 games at Birmingham that year because of a finger injury and plantar fasciitis. His 2016 spring training was cut short by a shoulder strain, and he missed a month of the season while recovering from a left oblique strain.
“It took me back a lot,” Hawkins said. “I was in a weird place having back-to-back injuries like that, and the year prior having another foot injury. The offseason was really just focused on getting healthy, staying in shape, eating right.”
Hawkins said he put on weight while recovering from the injuries, but his girlfriend helped him to be a healthier eater in the offseason to shed some of it.
He also tried to continue work he started in the Arizona Fall League at the end of last season. Hawkins spoke highly of playing under former Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand, who managed the Glendale Desert Dogs and is the organization’s roving outfield and baserunning coordinator.
“He’s straight up with you,” Hawkins said. “I respect that. … He’s passionate for the game, so everybody in the whole clubhouse in the fall league took a lot from him.”
Rowand said he thinks some of Hawkins’ work could translate this year.
“He has worked to make more contact, being able to recognize pitches earlier, not commit to the pitch before he has a chance to recognize,” Rowand said. “In the outfield, he’s been working hard on getting his reads, taking routes, getting good jumps on balls during batting practice, and it has translated to the way he has played on the field. He’s done an outstanding job.”