"I got off to a pretty good start," Chris Hawkins
said. "I'm just trying to work hard every day in the cage and have it translate out on the field."
Hawkins has driven in 33 runs, including ten in the last ten games, and is currently hitting .301 in the Appalachian League. He has eight doubles, six triples and five home runs this season. On July 26 in a game against Princeton, Hawkins was a single shy of hitting for the cycle in a seven-inning game.
"He's aggressive at the plate," Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said. "He doesn't give away too many at-bats. He's had some big hits for us along the way, extra-base hits, and some home runs here or there. He's a good team player, a good teammate in the clubhouse."
Hawkins is working with Bluefield hitting coach Kenny Graham to improve his skills at the plate. Graham said he wants him to stay through the baseball on his swing.
"He kind of comes up and off the ball a little bit," said Graham. "We like to call it keeping your chest over the baseball. That's something he really works on doing in drills and you can start to that filter into games a little more and more."
"Like all left-handers, when you're rolling out to second and first you know things are going wrong," said Hawkins. "I'm just trying to avoid all the rollovers and keeping everything to the middle of the field, keeping my head down and letting my swing work, not coming up and around the ball."
Graham is also continuing to work with Hawkins on getting the lower half of his body more involved in his swing.
"He's a strong kid, and with the aluminum bat he did a lot of damage with just that upper body strength," said Graham. "Now that he's got that wood bat in his hand and the pitching is a little bit better, he's got to get a little bit more out of his lower half.
"When Chris came in he had had a plan set up by the hitting coach he had last year [in the Gulf Coast League], Paul Elliott, and our hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce. Those two guys set up a great routine and a great plan for him. With the drills that he does every day for himself, week to week, you can really start to see that lower half start to get engaged more and more."
Hawkins has also worked on simplifying his swing and shortening his load when he is at the plate.
"When he came in he had a lot of excess movements that he got away with," said Graham. "Now it's just a matter of minimizing all the movements and making it simple so he can catch up with a fastball that's got a little velocity."
"In Extended Spring Training we worked on staying down," said Hawkins. "When I'm doing well, I stay down, my load is short and I'm in a good position to hit."
Hawkins' work in the batting cage has been translating into the games. One key to success for him has been working at-bats and not wasting trips to the plate.
"I'm doing a pretty good job battling at the plate," said Hawkins. "I'm really trying not to throw away any at-bats, just grind everything out. I think I've done a good job taking the stuff we've learned in the cage and bringing it onto the field."
"He's had a lot of success this year just because he's swinging at good pitches, laying off offspeed pitches out of the zone and laying off fastballs out of the zone," said Graham. "He's getting himself into leverage counts. When he gets in those counts and getting a good pitch to hit, he's not missing them."
Hawkins has been having more consistent success offensively in home games. He is hitting .381 at Bluefield's Bowen Field this season entering Wednesday night's game. On the road his batting average drops to .230.
"I've hit really well [at home] gap-to-gap, getting doubles and triples," said Hawkins. "Here at home you can really get into a routine. I get all my cage work in and sleep in a little bit better, eat better. I do like hitting here in Bluefield. I really don't feel any different on the road, but I would say the early work is probably the biggest thing."
After coming into the Blue Jays organization as an infielder, Hawkins was moved to the outfield during last year's Instructional League season. He has been working with Graham, who also works with outfielders, to familiarize himself the new position, learning how to read the baseball from a new angle and use his good speed to make good plays.
"He's always seen the ball coming off the bat from the infield," said Graham. "Being in the outfield now, it's a little bit different of a read. Getting the right angles to get the line drives versus the high fly balls, that's just going to take a little time and experience."
"There have been a few balls in the outfield where I probably could have taken better angles and maybe caught them, some fly balls over my head," said Hawkins. "There are still some things I need to work on, like first-step quickness, taking better angles to the ball. I feel like I'm getting better every day out there."
Graham said Hawkins is starting to come along as an outfielder.
"He's got a lot of room for improvement," said Graham. "All of drills we do in Spring Training and extended, he's always working and working right to improve his play out there and he's done a fantastic job for us in left field."
Along with his improving defense and good bat, Hawkins has good speed and base running skills. So far this season, he has ten stolen bases in eleven attempts.
"I'm trying to choose the right time to steal bases, not just stealing to steal," said Hawkins. "I think the coaching staff has definitely helped me out with that and put me in good situations. When I go, I just try to get a good jump and make something happen."
"Chris gets pretty good reads off pitchers and gets pretty good jumps," said Graham. "Once he gets going, he can really run. He just needs to continue to work on his leads and getting just a little bit better jumps on pitchers that are a little bit quicker to the plate.
"For a big, strong kid like he is, he can really run. You hear our manager, Dennis Holmberg, he's always talking about how he loves seeing Chris hit the ball to the gaps just so he can see Chris run around the bases because he gets after it and runs hard."
Graham expects Hawkins to continue improving, a result of working hard between games.
"Chris' performance has been a true testament to Chris Hawkins' work ethic," said Graham. "The guy is one of the best I've seen of working right and working hard at it. He's always in the cage every day. He's got a great routine that he's set up for himself. He's worked hard to develop. He's got it set up and follows through with it every day and works right."
Outfielder Chris Hawkins has been a consistently strong bat for rookie-class Bluefield. The third-round draft pick from 2010 is currently second on the team in RBIs. He has been showing off his speed, improving his bat, and adjusting to his new role in the outfield.
Chris Hawkins has had a solid season so far and has improved in many aspects of the game.