Coming Attractions - Blake Hawksworth

The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year scattered three hits over three innings and gave up only one run against the Baltimore Orioles in his second Grapefruit League appearance on 03/06. The Cardinals confidence and patience in the oft-injured starter, may start paying off big dividends soon.

Selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 28th round of the June 2001 free-agent draft, Blake Hawksworth has been considered one of the Cardinals top pitching prospects, but injuries have kept him from developing into the top of the rotation starter that St. Louis was expecting.

In 2003, the first of a series of injuries that eventually derailed his progress began. Bone spurs in his ankle required surgery that season to remove them, but in spite of that, his combined 2.91 ERA for 2003, between Peoria and Palm Beach, ranked tied for 7th among Cards minor league starters.

In 2004 he was limited to two starts at Palm Beach (A) due to a shoulder injury that required surgery in July to repair the labrum and clean out loose cartilage, which caused him to miss the rest of the season.

The Cardinals exercised extreme caution with Hawksworth in 2005. Still considered one of the Cardinals Top Prospects at the time, (Ranked #3 by Baseball America in 04) Blake kept breaking down with a series of nagging injuries that kept him from making quality starts. After his record reached the 0-3 mark with a 7.98 ERA, the Cardinals decided to shut him down for the rest of the season.

Last season Hawksworth bounced back from missing most of three seasons due to injuries to post a combined record of 11-4 in 27 starts with a 2.92 ERA between Palm Beach and Springfield. In 163.1 innings worked, Hawksworth allowed only 147 hits, while striking out 121 batters and walking only 50.

Following his remarkable 2006 season, Hawksworth was named Pitcher of the Year by both the Birdhouse and the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Leonda Markee the Minor League Editor of www.thestlcardinals announced Hawksworth's selection in November;

"Blake Hawksworth's 2006 season was the best overall performance in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system. After two seasons basically lost to injuries, Hawksworth entered 2006 with a great deal to prove. He needed to stay on the mound, make his starts and produce results. He did just that.

Hawksworth compiled an overall 11-4 record in 27 starts between the Palm Beach and Springfield Cardinals rotation. His 11 wins were third in St. Louis' minor league system in 2006, behind Cory Meacham and Trey Hearne. His four losses tied him for second place in fewest losses among full-season starters. All of this was accomplished over 163-1/3 innings, which was the second-highest innings-pitched behind John Webb.

Hawksworth began 2006 at class A-Advanced Palm Beach. There he went 7-2 in 83-2/3 innings with 75 hits allowed along with 19 walks for a 1.12 WHIP and 2.89 K/BB ratio. He did not allow a home run and held opposing batters to a .247 average and .302 on-base percentage.

Hawksworth made the biggest jump in the minors, performance-wise, on June 23rd when he was promoted to the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. At Springfield, he went 4-2 in 79-2/3 innings with 72 hits and 31 walks for a 1.21 WHIP and 2.13 K/BB ratio. He gave up eight home runs for an average of 0.90 HR/9 IP and held opposing batters to a .248 average and .322 on-base percentage.

One of the more impressive parts of Hawksworth's 2006 season was his improvement with runners in scoring position. He had runners in scoring position about 25% of the time at both Palm Beach and Springfield. Under those circumstances, batters went .288/.379/.301/.681 in Palm Beach and .229/.288/.314/.602 in Springfield. It should be noted, however, that Hawksworth's BAPIP in Palm Beach was a whopping .389 while it was just .273 at Springfield. This indicates that Hawksworth was pretty unlucky on balls in play at Palm Beach and was just a tad lucky by that same measure in Springfield. Still the improvement in his RISP numbers is noteworthy.

Although Hawksworth's numbers declined a bit in most categories when comparing Palm Beach against Springfield, as is to be expected when moving from A-Advanced to Double-A, his Double-A numbers remained solid. His strikeouts improved from just under six a game at Palm Beach to around seven and one-half at Springfield. On the other hand, his control worsened from two walks a game at Palm Beach to three and one-half at Springfield.

When compared to the rest of the group of 29, Hawksworth's 2006 performance was among the most balanced. His strikeout average of 6.7 was 16th overall but his Springfield K rate of 7.46 was second of the eight pitchers that performed at either Double-A or Triple-A in 2006. His 2.75 walks per nine innings pitched average was 12th of 29. Hawksworth's 1.21 WHIP stood eighth in the group while his 2.42 K/BB ratio was tenth. Given his health history, Hawksworth's ranking of second in total innings pitched for 2006 is particularly important."

In November the Cardinals added Blake to their 40 man roster making him a Spring Training teammate with Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter.

In his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game this spring, Hawksworth pitched two innings of scoreless relief on 03/01 against the New York Mets, giving up only one hit and walking one batter.

I watched Blake work out this week in a bullpen session with the Cardinals staff ace, Chris Carpenter and I couldn't help but be reminded how the Cardinals stuck with Carpenter during his long rehab and how it is paying off in big dividends for the club today.

One has to wonder, will the same hold true for Blake Hawksworth?

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