CHICAGO -- When Courtney Hawkins last sat in the U.S. Cellular Field Conference and Learning Center, approximately one year ago, he was a high-school student from Texas taking part in the acclaimed Double Duty Classic.
Hawkins made a return engagement on Monday, prior to the series opener with the Cubs, but this time as a professional baseball player.
The South Siders' top selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft and 13th pick overall officially signed his contract, sitting next to general manager Ken Williams and just across the room from his mother and father. The 18-year-old reportedly agreed to a recommended slot bonus of $2.475 million and will report immediately to Advanced Rookie Bristol, with the Appalachian League season opener set for Tuesday.
As the first first-round prep selection made by the White Sox since right-handed pitcher Kris Honel in 2001, Hawkins' climb will take a bit longer than Chris Sale or Gordon Beckham, as examples of top collegiate picks currently helping the team's first-place cause.
But in listening to Williams talk about Hawkins and his refined five-tool talent, it becomes clear that the White Sox got their targeted player.
"One of the things that convinced me that he could be our No. 1 pick when I went down to see him in Corpus Christi was that he had the ability to not just put a good swing on the ball," said Williams. "He had the ability and the know-how to shorten his swing up, to widen his base with two strikes, to take a ball into right-center field and the awareness that that's what he needs to do to compete at a higher level.
"That, combined with the instincts that you see out on the baseball field, just convinced us that he's not your typical high-school five-tool player. We think they will translate into success and success very quickly."
During his senior season for Carroll High School, Hawkins hit .437 with 11 home runs, 39 RBIs, 56 runs scored, 17 stolen bases, a .580 on-base and an .874 slugging percentage over 36 games. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder also finished with a 5-2 record, 0.96 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings.
His pitching days basically became a thing of the past when he signed with the White Sox, as Hawkins chose a professional career over playing baseball for the University of Texas. He had one week off after the Texas state playoffs came to a close, but is ready to get back into action.
"I get to keep playing ball non-stop, so that's a good thing," said Hawkins, who flashed a broad smile pretty much throughout the 15-minute signing and press conference. "It's a lifelong dream. I always wanted to play professional baseball and I got the opportunity and everything was right. I'm glad to sign.
"I'm going to try to develop into the best baseball player I can be and I'd love to be here as fast as possible. It would be great to be playing here soon."
At the conclusion of the press conference, Hawkins put on a White Sox uniform for the first time and mingled with the players in the home clubhouse. He then got to take batting practice.
Countless White Sox fans already have reached out to Hawkins via social media, causing Williams to pause and ask Hawkins if he had a Twitter account (he does). The young Texan already has shown off a high-energy personality to match his talent, whether it comes through performing in a parody viral video called "Draft Me Maybe" with four other top picks including Carlos Correa, or his now famous back flip in a suit during a Draft night interview with Sam Ryan on MLB Network.
All of the publicity surrounding the flip surprised Hawkins, who then added he also was surprised by the reaction of some people before looking at Williams and chuckling. There is no contractual clause prohibiting Hawkins from flipping, but a smiling Williams said he talked with Hawkins and even talked with Hawkins' parents to reinforce the point.
Anything that can be done to preserve what looks to be a bright future for Hawkins will be done. It's a future that took root when his older brother, Tim, helped him lose weight before high school and then great things to come were foreshadowed when Hawkins played for the West squad in the 2011 Double Duty Classic and was named co-Most Valuable Player.
"You were out there last time," said Williams, pointing to the seats filled by media in referencing Hawkins' last U.S. Cellular appearance.
"It definitely feels different. I'm a lot happier, especially for this reason," said Hawkins in comparing his last two summer trips to Chicago. "As far as being here, I'm excited. It feels good."