Twelve months ago, Courtney Hawkins was wrapping up his high school season with the Carroll Tigers and working on fundamentals with his father in Corpus Christi, Texas.
A .437 hitter at the plate, Hawkins also sported a 0.96 ERA on the mound. A speedy, hard-throwing, smooth-hitting two-way player, Hawkins also could do standing back flips on command, such was the raw talent of an obviously gifted athlete.
Fast forward to Wednesday evening and the top White Sox prospect was shaking off the rust in his first full season of professional baseball. He did so with a bang, or a couple of them actually. The first-rounder homered twice and plated four runs in the Class A Winston-Salem Dash's 5-2 win over the host Frederick Keys.
"It's still funny when I think about it," Hawkins said about how far he's traveled -- literally and figuratively -- since last spring. "This time last year I was out hitting in the cage with my pops.
"I still talk to [father Tim] two or three times a day, every day. There are times when I tell him that I know what I did wrong and that I don't need to hear him tell me, but I respect him so much and he will tell me regardless."
Hawkins' performance Wednesday marked his first multi-homer game and the 29th of its kind in Dash history. Keenyn Walker last accomplished the feat Aug. 18.
No Dash player has ever hit three homers in one game, although John Shelby went yard three times on May 3, 2008, when the franchise was called the Warthogs.
MLB.com's No. 68 prospect drilled the second pitch he saw from Eduardo Rodriguez to deep center field in the first inning for his first longball of the young season.
"It was a pretty good swing. It was a middle-away fastball and I was able to hit it," the center fielder said. "I got extended a little bit. It was my first time playing at that park so I didn't know how well it traveled, but halfway down the first-base line I knew it was gone. That first one is always the hard one."
Then with two outs in the third, Hawkins got the better of Rodriguez again.
He got ahead of the left-hander, 2-1, but he swung through Rodriguez's fourth offering and eventually worked the count full after fouling off a pair of two-strike pitches. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat and with the runner taking off, Hawkins smacked the breaking ball to left-center field to double the lead and make it a 4-0 game.
"I got it a little better," he said. "It was up in the zone and I was just trying to stay aggressive, but I'm still trying to learn what pitches I can handle and what I can't."
Hawkins had started year slowly, going 1-for-10 with six strikeouts in three games. He exited Sunday's finale at Carolina because of right quad soreness and he sat out Tuesday's series opener in Frederick before returning Wednesday. He is batting .214 over four games.
Selected by the White Sox 13th overall in June's Draft, Hawkins hit .284 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in 59 games across three levels last year.
"There are things I still want to correct, but those first two at-bats were good," he said. "I get myself out more than pitchers get me out. I'm still aggressive and I'm still going to take my cuts, I just need to focus a little more.
"At first I was worried, but then some of the older guys reminded me that it's just three games into the season and not to worry about it. They said I could have five or even 10 bad games and still have a great season. It's a long season and they told me not to dwell on a week's worth of games."
His teammates are not the only people offering words of advice.
"I've been working with my hitting coach Rob Sasser and he told me to stand up a little taller and that has worked for me," the 6-foot-3 right-hander said.
"Anything in the zone, I don't have a problem with. It's just waiting on getting a pitch to hit and not committing too early. Whether it's a fastball or slider or curveball, it's the pitches out of the zone I'm not hitting."
On Wednesday, second baseman Joey DeMichele went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. Dash starter Justin Collop (1-0) scattered three hits and four walks while striking out four batters over five innings in the victory.
Keys left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (0-1) took the loss, surrendering five runs -- four earned -- on nine hits over six frames. He struck out four batters and did not issue any walks.