February 18, 2014
Spring training is a chance to start out fresh. Some players are looking to pick up where they left off, while others are looking to improve on their previous season as they move forward. For outfield prospect Chris Hawkins, it’s an opportunity to rebound from a 2013 season that saw him struggle offensively.
Considering he batted .269 with 17 doubles, four triples, two home runs, and 43 RBI for the Lugnuts in 2012, Hawkins’ return to Lansing was a bit surprising . The return was due to playing time, though, as the Blue Jays felt Hawkins would get more at-bats in the Midwest League rather than sending him up to the Florida State League to be a fourth outfielder with the Dunedin Blue Jays.
Being a young player, the organization wanted to see more production out of the Georgia native. Lansing hitting coach Kenny Graham discussed that having Hawkins repeat the Midwest League was with hopes of seeing more consistency out of the outfielder.
“Chris had a good year in 2012, but we were hoping to get more production out of him and get him to drive the baseball more,” Graham said. “Chris has done that in the past. Two years ago in Bluefield he drove in a lot of runs for just a short season. We’re looking for more consistency and getting him those good leverage counts.”
Hawkins enjoyed the opportunity to work with Graham for a third season as the two were together in Bluefield in 2011 before spending the last two seasons together in Lansing.
“Kenny is a tremendous hitting coach. The guy works so hard, he’s a grinder out there,” stated Hawkins. “Kenny is with you at the cage from 1:30 to whenever we get to go home. I love working with him and I have been blessed having a great hitting coach by my side. We have had a lot of ups and downs, but I’m very appreciative for what he has done for me.”
Hawkins made strides in certain aspects of his production, as he saw an increase in his triples and home runs in 2013. He finished the season with a .226 average, six triples, three home runs, and 28 RBI last season.
“Statistically it hasn’t been great or nearly as good as ,” he explained. “With that said, I have worked hard. I feel I improved in some areas and I hope it shows in the future. One things for certain – it will certainly make me hungrier for next season.”
Hawkins’ favorite memory of 2013 was a game against Bowling Green on July 29, when the Lugnuts won 6-5 in walk-off fashion and he was able to start the rally in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“It was the bottom of the ninth and we needed a win bad,” Hawkins said. “It was tied and I came to the plate and led off with a triple. Kellen Sweeney came up next and hit a line drive down the left field line and we won 6-5. It was the first time we beat Bowling Green all year. It felt great.”
Another aspect Hawkins enjoyed about 2013 was the opportunity to play more positions. In 2012, he played mostly right field, but in 2013 he got to rotate to left field more as well as perform as a designated hitter. It was a welcome change for the 22-year old.
“I enjoy flipping from right to left field. Last season I played left for the first month and then they left me in right for the rest of the season,” he said. “This year they let me flip between the two positions more. I enjoy the experience, because the more positions you can play the more valuable you are as a player.
“I don’t mind being a DH, but I prefer playing in the field. I like the challenges playing defense brings to the game, but it’s good to give the legs a little rest at times and just focus on hitting, but I really don’t see myself as a DH further down the line.”
Hawkins lines a double with the Lugnuts in 2012
As a member of the Lugnuts for both the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Hawkins discussed the similarities and differences he witnessed between the two teams.
“Both teams had a lot of talent. Obviously the 2013 team didn’t have Sanchez, Nicolino, and Syndergaard, but the pitching staff stepped up,” reflected Hawkins. “Guys like Taylor Cole pitched really well. Ben White had a nice season. Really all the pitchers did well. You look at our lineup and obviously we were a little bit younger this past year, but a lot of guys progressed really well throughout the year -I think it’ll show down the line.
“The rotation was blowing people away in 2012 with a lot of velocity. The rotation in 2013 was good, but they’re more spot up guys and crafty. They needed to locate their pitches more. As well, the lineup had a little less pop, but still a lot of talent. Guys like Emilio Guerrero had a great year. Dwight Smith and Dalton Pompey had tremendous years. Even the guys who didn’t have the years they wanted were still grinding.”
Hawkins returned home to Georgia this past off-season for a few weeks of rest before jumping into a rigorous off-season routine designed to put him on top of his game for 2014.
“In the off-season I do yoga to stay in shape. I have my workout booklet from the Blue Jays organization which contains a lot of good information on staying flexible, weight training, and drills to stay on top of your game.”