Hawpe recovering, grinding for one more shot
Former All-Star in Double-A with hopes of a big league return
FRISCO, Texas -- Like any Minor Leaguer, Brad Hawpe yearns for a chance in the big leagues.
But unlike most Double-A players, Hawpe was a Major League All-Star just three years ago. He was a key piece of a Rockies team that made its first World Series appearance in 2007. That season, he hit 29 home runs and had 116 RBIs -- both career highs -- while posting a .291 batting average.
Now, Hawpe suits up for Double-A Frisco while waiting for another chance. He is not ready to give up. Hawpe is commuting from his hometown in Fort Worth, and that's a significant reason why he is willing to grind it out day after day in the comparative anonymity of the Minor Leagues.
"I haven't been around here since '97 or '98," Hawpe said. "It has been great. I'm just sitting here, staying in my house and driving over here. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing it."
Hawpe signed with the Rangers in the offseason because he wanted to play for his hometown team. The Rangers signed him to a Minor League contract, mainly as insurance if first baseman Mitch Moreland were injured or struggling. Turns out they didn't need that insurance, and Moreland is playing well at the big league level.
Hawpe was an outfielder for the Rockies from 2004-10, then switched to first base with the Padres in 2011 before having to undergo Tommy John surgery in August. The Rangers liked what they saw from Hawpe in Spring Training, but had no room for him on the roster. They released him at the end of Spring Training so he could find a job with another Major League team.
He didn't find one and agreed to go to Frisco. The plan was for Hawpe to build up arm strength to where he could play the outfield again. Nearly two months into the season, he is close to doing that.
"That's what the reports are, yes," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. "I know the arm strength has come back. He's ready to go. He's done a great job."
Right now, however, the Rangers don't need an outfielder. They have yet to make a roster move and are playing with the same 25-man roster they've had since Opening Day. It means Hawpe must stay in the Minors.
In 31 games with the RoughRiders this season, Hawpe is batting .280 with three home runs and 12 RBIs. Against right-handed pitchers, the left-handed Hawpe is hitting .358 (24-for-67) and boasts a .505 on-base percentage. Conversely, Hawpe has posted a .150 (6-for-40) batting average against left-handers this year, with 18 strikeouts and three walks.
Hawpe, who turns 33 in June, has played 14 games in right field as he completes his recovery from surgery. If the Rangers do need an outfielder, Hawpe would likely get serious consideration.
"He wants to be here. It's home for him," said Frisco manager Steve Buechele. "He's been honest about his arm. Some days, it's not feeling great. Some days, it feels good. I think he's still kind of feeling through everything."
Buechele has also noticed how well Hawpe has interacted with his RoughRiders teammates, all of whom are younger than him. That includes 19-year-old shortstop Jurickson Profar, the top prospect in the Rangers' system, according to MLB.com, who had a 29-game hitting streak snapped on Sunday. Profar was only 7 years old when Hawpe was selected by the Rockies in the 11th round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft.
"He's been great in the clubhouse," said Buechele. "He could have come in here and big leagued everybody, but he's been nothing but professional, and I think the guys love having him around."
At nearby Saginaw Boswell High School, Hawpe helped the Pioneers capture their only state title in school history in 1997. Three years later, Hawpe was a member of the 2000 All-Tournament Team at the College World Series when his LSU Tigers won their fifth national championship. The Rockies were later swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series during Hawpe's only trip to the Fall Classic. Now, he's trying to get back.
"That's probably the only reason I'm still playing," Hawpe said. "I've been fortunate enough to be in the World Series once before, and unfortunate enough to lose it, but I still had an unbelievable experience. I'd like to go back there and I'd like to win it."
A veteran with 43 career postseason at-bats, Hawpe has proven he can be productive at the Major League level, including four straight seasons of 20-plus home runs and 80-plus RBIs from 2006-09. However, Hawpe has yet to regain that form. He hit just .239 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs combined during his final two big league seasons and is now nine months removed from major elbow surgery.
Can he contribute in the Major Leagues again?
"Whenever he gets his swing down, I think he'll be able to contribute, no doubt," Buechele said. "His experience and his left-handed bat with some power is something that someone will need down the line."
Hawpe said his arm feels significantly better and he's beginning to feel comfortable in the outfield again. After going 0-for-4 in Friday's loss to San Antonio, he was greeted by his two children on his way out of the clubhouse. Being able to attend their soccer and softball games is something Hawpe said he thoroughly enjoys, though he would be willing to continue his baseball career with another franchise. He said he has been in touch with several other clubs recently.
"I couldn't go up there and play seven days a week in the outfield," Hawpe said. "I have some at-bats where I don't have something to hit and I try to go outside the zone and swing at stuff. If I just take at-bats where I'm patient and just hit what's given to me, it'll be fine."
A champion in high school and college, Hawpe's hope of taking home a title as a professional is keeping him in the game. To do it close to home with the Rangers, Hawpe said, would be ideal.
"That'd be the dream," said Hawpe. "But we'll see. I know that I'm healthy. We'll give it time and see what happens with this club, or with another club."
Christian Corona is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.