Most baseball fans are familiar with the phrase "Three True Outcomes", which refers to walks, strike outs, and home runs. These outcomes are "true" in that they pit the pitcher against the batter, largely independent of outside factors like defense or foot speed. When ball four is awarded to the batter, it is a certainty that he will be reaching first base.
When it comes to prospects, certainties do not exist. Every prospect has a wide range of outcomes between his ceiling and floor potential, with most players settling somewhere in between the two. I like to think of prospect outcomes as the Dream (the player's ceiling), the Nightmare (the player's floor) and the Reality (weighing all the factors to come up with the most likely outcome). Throughout the year, I will be examining the ceilings and floors of players across the minor leagues, and making my best forecast on the eventual outcome. Today's prospect is the most recent first round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox, outfielder Courtney Hawkins.
Scouting reports often begin with a description of a player's body, and that seems like a natural way to start talking about Courtney Hawkins. Hawkins doesn't look like your average 19-year old, with a sculpted, chiseled, physique and lean muscle mass draped all over his 6'3", 220 pound frame. To put it simply, Hawkins is an imposing man on the baseball diamond. With his tremendous size, it's no surprise that his biggest asset is his power potential. His bat speed is exceptional, and he already does a great job of using his size to gain leverage in his swing. And Hawkins has already translated his raw power into games, hitting 15 home runs and posting a .218 isolated power in his first 82 professional games. Princeton Manager Michael Johns had this to say about Hawkins:
"His bat speed is probably the best I've seen at this level since I've been doing this. He takes a monster hack now, but when he shortens it up he has a chance to hit for more power because his bat head stays in the zone so long."
Actually his professional debut garnered much excitement for every facet of his game. Chicago pushed him aggressively, but Hawkins held his own hitting .284/.324/.480 and reaching High-A at just 18-years old. While the power and size are his calling cards, he also was one of the best all-around athletes in last year's draft class as you can see here on the telecast from the draft:
Presently he runs well enough to handle centerfield, but most evaluators project that he will slow down as he matures. He won't steal many bases and his future is as a plus defender in right field with good instincts and an outstanding throwing arm that routinely hit 90 mph off the mound as an amateur. The White Sox sent him back to the Carolina League to begin 2013, but with a good showing there he could move quickly. He is easily the top prospect in Chicago's system, and the profile reminds many of Marlins' star Giancarlo Stanton. As one scout put it, "Talent-wise, ability-wise, the sky is the limit for him."
Ceiling Fantasy Line: .283 average, 49 home runs, 96 runs, 127 RBIs, 6 steals
You may notice very little mention of Hawkins' hit tool in our first section. Unfortunately that's not an oversight on my part, but rather an indication that there are questions about his ability to make consistent contact. His swing tends to get a bit long, putting him into prolonged cold spells where he racks up the strikeouts. To date he has struck out in 34.5% of his Minor League plate appearances, and over 50% (!) of his trips to the plate this year. Let's set aside the fact that he needs to improve his pitch recognition, plate discipline, and approach, he first needs to learn to put the ball in much more consistently to have any success. Now, he is just 19-years old with 300 at bats under his belt, both strong points for optimism. However, his comp from The Dream, Giancarlo Stanton, hit .294/.390/.578 while striking out just over 21% of the time as a 19-year old in High-A. Again, not saying that Hawkins won't make the adjustments, and by all accounts no one has anything but wonderful things to say about his work ethic and makeup, but he has some real boom or bust potential for the White Sox. Along with Bubba Starling, he is one of the most likely candidates among top-100 prospects to flame out before the Big Leagues. Assuming that he can at least make some improvement's to his contact rate to something passable, he should have some value in a Jose Hernandez, Jack Cust, or Chris Carter-like way, while possibly setting a strikeout record or two along the way.
Floor Fantasy Line: .209 average, 23 home runs, 54 runs, 63 RBIs, 0 steals
Wow, the ceiling and the floor for Hawkins are even farther apart than I realized when I began writing this. Truthfully, his reality will almost entirely be decided by the development of his hit tool. Players like that scare me, and always have. For every success story like Giancarlo Stanton, there are hundreds of examples of players like Ryan Harvey and Joe Borchard that couldn't make it. Still, Hawkins is too young and too talented for me to think he is doomed to follow in those footsteps. Despite his contact struggles, he has hit .256/.304/.474 in his first 300 professional at bats, an impressive feat when you consider the number of strikeouts. As he puts more balls in play and gains a better approach at the plate, those numbers should only improve. I do think he'll always be among the league leaders in strikeouts, but fortunately as long as he continues to hit for power he should continue to have value at the Major League level. Most importantly, he finally gives the White Sox a position-player prospect to be excited about, something we have not been able to say for some time.
Fantasy Line: .244 average, 31 home runs, 71 runs, 89 RBIs, 4 steals
Fore more on the White Sox and their prospects, be sure to check out South Side Sox.
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