The Hawk

Question marks surround Blake Hawksworth, the Cardinals' former highest rated prospect, but with all the talk this spring about prospects Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright and Brad Thompson, it's the "Hawk", who may have the highest upside.

The Blake "The Hawk" Hawksworth possesses the most exciting arm in the St. Louis Cardinals system and he could just be the guy within the organization to make Cardinal fans forget about Rick Ankiel.

The 22 year old right-hander from North Vancouver, British Columbia was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 28th round of the 2001 draft. The Cardinals gave the impressive 6'3" 195 pounder pitcher a $1.475 million dollar bonus as a draft-and-follow right before the 2002 draft, making up for their lack of first-or-second-round pick that year.

The signing bonus made Blake one of the highest-paid players drafted the prior year. Drafted late by St. Louis out of Eastlake HS in '01, the Cardinals held the signing rights to Hawksworth up through what is called the "closed" period during which the Cards had to come to an agreement with Blake before he was available to be drafted by any other organization. Typically, the closed period lasts 48 hours after the end of the final game of the season.

Hawksworth was playing for Bellevue Junior College, in Bellevue, WA, when he signed with the Cardinals. He had been named both region and conference MVP after his phenomenal year at Bellevue in which he legitimately developed into one of the nation's top prospects.

Since signing with the Cardinals, the accolades, other than the words potential, have been given to others, as Hawksworth has failed to pitch in as many as 90 innings in any season.

He missed time in 2003 with a bone spur in his ankle and was only able to pitch in 11 innings in 2004 because of a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Having the surgey in May of last year has given Hawksworth plenty of time to get ready for the 2005 season. Fortunately the doctors didn't find any structural damage when they scoped his shoulder and he's expected to be 100% when the season starts.

To date, Hawksworth boast a minor league career record of 10-8 with a 3.02 ERA, holding batters to just a .217 batting average. In his limited playing time in 2003, with the Peoria Chiefs, the Hawk had a record of 5-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 10 starts. And how about this, a greater than 4-1 strike out to walk ratio, that season. Striking out 57 batters while walking only 12.

In 2004 this is what Will Lingo of Baseball America had to say about Hawksworth's strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths: Hawksworth has the highest ceiling of any St. Louis pitching prospect since Rick Ankiel. His fastball usually ranges from 90-92 mph, but it was clocked at 96 in the seventh inning of one start. He could pitch at 92-94 consistently as he fills out, and he has started pitching off his fastball consistently after relying too much on his offspeed stuff as an amateur. Both his curveball and changeup are potential above-average pitches. His curve has good rotation and his changeup has good fade. Hawksworth also has a good approach to pitching and admirable toughness. He makes pitches when he needs to, and when he gets ahead of hitters he puts them away.

Weaknesses: Fastball command is Hawksworth's biggest need, as it lags behind his control of the curve and changeup. Again, that's a function of his younger days, when he dominated hitters with his offspeed stuff and used his fastball sparingly. He can pitch to all four quadrants of the strike zone but doesn't always do so consistently. In part that's because, while his mechanics are smooth, his release point varies. Hawksworth needs to pitch a full season, not only to prove he's healthy but also to soak up the experience that only innings can bring.

Look for the "Hawk" to return to the form that made him Baseball America's 2004 Top Prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals. In addition to proving he's healthy, he needs to work on his breaking ball and improve his command while getting those much needed innings in.

If he can put it all together he could quickly move up the minor league ladder in 2005.

One Midwest League manager said Hawksworth could be in St. Louis in no more than two years, and that's not an unreasonable prediction, in my opinion.

As a matter of fact, I project Hawksworth as a front-of-the-rotation starter for the Cardinals by 2007.

Now, who was that other kid that had control problems that went on to be an outfielder?

What's his name?

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