CARY, N.C. -- Courtney Hawkins fit the classic definition of a one-man team here Thursday on Day Two of USA Baseball’s inaugural National High School Invitational.
Not only did Hawkins, a projected mid-first round pick in this year’s draft, pitch the first 5-1/3 innings of Carroll High’s 1-0 win over Gulliver Prep, but he accounted for the only run of the game with a long home run over the left-center field wall in the third inning.
This was no ordinary high-school game as it matched two traditional national powers—No. 2-ranked Carroll High of Corpus Christi, Texas, and No. 15-ranked Gulliver Prep of Miami.
Gulliver appeared to have the deeper, more well-rounded lineup with a number of Division I recruits (including four headed to the University of Miami), but the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hawkins mowed down the Raiders with relative ease, striking out nine while walking two and allowing four hits before being lifted. Sophomore righthander Rene Pineda retired the last five hitters for Carroll.
“I’ve played in a lot of games in my life, but I don’t know if I’ve ever won a 1-0 game and hit a home run,” Hawkins said. “Well, maybe I’ve done it a couple of times. I don’t really remember.”
Hawkins is a top prospect for this year’s draft mainly on the strength of his offensive potential, but his fastball peaked out at 93 mph and he seemed to take greater pride in his pitching performance Thursday—especially since he has played with and against several of the Gulliver Prep players in summer-league competition.
“I got some good scouting reports on them from some of my buddies in Florida, and I think I threw them off a bit,” he said with a smile. “Normally, I throw a lot of fastballs, but I really mixed things up today. I threw a lot more off-speed stuff, and got a lot of movement on my pitches to both sides of the plate.”
Pitching aside, Hawkins’ future is clearly with a bat in hand, and a consensus of major-league scouting directors in attendance at the four-day, 16-team tournament made it clear that he is the cream of the crop for this year’s draft among the top position prospects participating in the event.
“He’s still got some things to work on with his approach at the plate,” said one National League scouting director, “but it’s all there. He’s got the whole package.”
“The thing that I like about him,” added another NL director, “is that he’s not only got the talent, but he’s also very competitive. You could tell today how badly he wanted to win that game.”
Hawkins had to take things into his own hands as his Carroll High teammates were able to muster just three singles off Gulliver Prep lefthander Ivan Pelaez, one of the team’s Miami recruits.
“We didn’t do a very good job at the plate today,” said Carroll head coach Lee Yeager, “but fortunately Courtney came through for us. He did a good job of mixing his pitches and keeping that team off balance. Normally he throws most fastballs, but he also had a splitter and his slider going, and he got their 4-hole hitter (Louisiana State-bound catcher Chris Chinea) out on a slider at a key point in the game.”
Even as he ranks as one of the top power-hitting prospects in the high-school ranks, Hawkins typically hits in the leadoff spot for Carroll. After going deep in the third, he was conveniently walked intentionally his next time at-bat with a runner on second and two out.
“He hits leadoff for us, so he doesn’t get pitched around all the time,” Yeager said. “It worked against us the one time, but you make a mistake against him, and he’ll hurt you.”
Though Hawkins was mostly a one-man show Thursday for Carroll, he normally has a strong supporting cast as the Tigers stretched their record on the season to 17-0 with their narrow win. Two years ago, with a lineup that included seven sophomore starters, the Tigers beat the nation’s No. 1 team on their way to winning the Texas 5-A state title. Those seven players, led by Hawkins, form the nucleus of this year’s undefeated team.
In his four years at Carroll High, Hawkins has shown steady improvement throughout to a point where only Georgia outfielder Byron Buxton is considered a superior prospect among the high-school position players in this year’s draft.
“He’s really matured in all phases of his game,” Yeager said. “He’s learned to slow the game down and rely more on his teammates—well, maybe not so much today.”