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Enter Courtney Hawkins

We were barely out of the parking lot, and she was on her cell talking to a friend back in Chicago.

"We lost to the Cubs," my wife lamented. "I can't stand losing to the Cubs."

"It doesn't matter," I explained after she got off the phone. "These games are meaningless. They don't count."

This was of little consolation on a day when Camelback Ranch - I don't get it; I thought ranches were for horses and cowboys - was filled to capacity by the announced crowd of 13,101, of whom probably two-thirds were decked out in Cubbie blue. With two outs in the ninth and a three run-lead, the victory-starved, giddy Cub fans were on their feet chanting, "Let's Go Cubs." It could have been an October pennant-clincher. Did I mention that the game was meaningless?

Despite that fact, I was minimally perturbed that 1) we could only score "lawn seats," deciding too late that we were going to Phoenix, and 2) that guys like David Ross, Taylor Teagarden, and someone named Anthony Giansanti went deep against the Sox' "improved" pitching staff. But then, in a meaningless game, you have to factor in the fluffy warm desert air and a humidity barely above single digits.

However, there were some nice touches, like the two delightfully cruel guys wearing Sox jerseys with "Bartman 03" stitched across the shoulders.

In addition, watching second-base prospect Micah Johnson go 2-for-3 with a stolen base while looking comfortable in the field - he made his first error of the spring on Sunday - was refreshing. After Sunday he was hitting .455 this spring, which ranks third in all of baseball. His OBP is a whopping .514. The Indiana U product has earned the inside track to be the team's Opening Day starter, and batting ninth right ahead of Adam Eaton has the potential to drive opposing pitchers nuts, especially with Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu on deck and in the hole.

Of course, this all is practice. Any correlation to reality is pure conjecture.

Hector Noesi pitched effectively against the crosstown club, getting an out in the top of the fifth before taking the rest of the day off. He left with the Sox leading 4-2, the only blemish being Ross's two-run shot in the second. No big deal. When Hector gives up runs, a four-bagger often is part of the equation. Noesi has done nothing to endanger his chances of being the No. 5 starter.

Not part of the equation - at least last year when his ERA was 1.96 - has been Zach Putnam's propensity for basically pitching batting practice in these exhibitions. The first offering out of his hand to open to top of the ninth on Saturday was hammered onto the lawn - by this time we were standing behind home plate - in right center by Teagarden. Two hitters later, Giansanti hit one to left center, giving Putnam a spring ERA of almost 20. Of course, these games don't count. The only way they do is if Putnam finds a one-way ticket to Charlotte in a week or so. Not likely but possible.

Saturday with the Royals was much more pleasant. The ballpark was far more comfortable, quiet and less than half-filled. The announced attendance was 7,734, but no more than four or five thousand were there, and the Royals fans, despite supporting last year's American League champions, were dignified and intelligent.

Brad Penny, owner of 121 big-league wins and a longshot for the rotation since Chris Sale fell off his truck, pitched into the fifth inning on a yield of two runs. Only problem was that manager Robin Ventura summoned Jake Petricka with a man on, and his first pitch to catcher Eric Kratz wound up halfway to Peoria - Arizona, not Illinois - so Penny was on the hook for the loss.

Enter Courtney Hawkins. You remember him. The No. 1 draft choice (13th overall) who did a back flip upon being tabbed by the Sox in 2012. Then-general manager Ken Williams - after changing his laundry - decreed that Hawkins no longer would be a gymnast.

In three professionals seasons, the kid from Corpus Christi has struck out 359 times while hitting .231. However - and this is a big "however" - he has hit 46 minor-league home runs while his strikeouts have been declining.

He stepped to the plate in the seventh inning last Saturday against Franklin Morales, who's spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues, including last year when he started 22 games for the Rockies. With Eaton on second and an 0-1 count, Hawkins made a near-perfect swing and launched a game-tying blast about 430 feet onto the lawn in left center. Again, we were behind home plate, and the ball flew off his bat like a Rory McElroy drive with a lovely draw.

But wait a minute. This all was inconsequential, it being spring training. Nevertheless, I was on my feet behaving like a crazy person.

There's more. Hawkins came up in the bottom of the ninth in a 4-4 game with Carlos Sanchez on second, and this time Hawkins went to dead center - distance 410 feet - liberally clearing the fence for the walkoff.

This is spring training. Nothing counts. It's all pointless. But I'll remember two homers within about a half-hour totaling close to 850 feet. The 21-year-old Hawkins is headed to Double-A Birmingham within a few days, but by the time Melky's contract expires in 2017, this kid should be ready. I can't wait.

Among other observations from the spring is that the Sox will make a lot more contact at the plate this season. Only four teams fanned more than the Sox last year, but Adam LaRoche and Cabrera make much better contact than the people they're replacing, Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo. Avisail Garcia has whiffed just once this spring while hitting .400, and Johnson is another low-strikeout guy.

Much has been made of the deals to get relievers David Robertson, Zach Duke, and Dan Jennings. Yet as a staff the Sox have been pretty miserable this spring. Only the Rangers have a higher team ERA.

Of course, none of this means a thing. Absolutely nothing. The trio of new relievers have pitched 15-plus innings this spring with an ERA of 6.46. Don't mean nothing.

So what is important for the too-long spring training? For openers, if the Sox can emerge with the minor injury to Sale - notwithstanding reliever Jesse Crain's setback from arm surgery - they can head north in dandy shape. Minimizing the DL is paramount. Ask the Rangers, who said goodbye to Yu Darvish as he heads for surgery.

And the final few roster spots certainly are important to the players vying for them. Geo Soto or Rob Brantly? J.B. Shuck or Leury Garcia? (Bet on Shuck for that one.) Javy Guerra, Daniel Webb, Penny, Eric Surkamp or Maikel Cleto? Take your pick.

Nothing else has significance. But we're not likely to forget those two homers by Courtney Hawkins any time soon.


See also:
* Robin Ventura Calls Sox Prospect Courtney Hawkins Most Improved.

* White Sox Prospect Courtney Hawkins Opens Eyes.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 22, 2021