By TYSON SHUSHKEWICH
San Diego Padres pitching prospect Garrett Hawkins underwent Tommy John surgery in August, but he is hoping to return to game action before the end of the 2024 season.
“The Padres have a plan in place for me and right now I am just focused on getting healthy and being able to throw again,” Hawkins recently told the Canadian Baseball Network.
“If everything goes according to plan, the hope is to start throwing in January and then continually working on getting back into game shape following the procedure and hopefully see some rehab games late in the season.”
The 2023 season was a frustrating one for the 6-foot-5 Vauxhall Academy grad. Hawkins began the year in High-A and was dealing through his first four starts, allowing just six earned runs through 15 innings, before an oblique injury saw him hit the injured list (IL) in early May.
Fast forward to July and Hawkins was still on the IL, having been transferred from the 7-day IL to the 60-day IL due to a forearm strain. That strain would eventually lead to the Tommy John surgery.
It was a tough blow for the Biggar, Sask., native who had been steadily moving up the Padres’ minor league ranks after honing his skills in Alberta.
A product of the Vauxhall Jets Academy, the 6-foot-5 right-hander impressed on the mound during his time in southern Alberta and gained the attention of a few different programs across Canada and the United States, eventually committing to the University of British Columbia for the 2018-19 campaign.
“There were a few different programs that expressed interest but with some impending coaching decisions at some of the other programs, UBC just felt like the right fit,” said Hawkins.
“Right from the get-go I felt like I would be able to immediately contribute in my freshman year with the Thunderbirds and the program, facilities, and the campus just was the right choice at the end of the day.”
Pitching under head coach and former big leaguer Chris Pritchett, Hawkins, along with his former Jets teammates Ty Penner, Liam Vulcano, and David Richards, propelled the Thunderbirds to a 30-22 record and helped UBC reach the NAIA World Series Opening Round bracket in Macon, Ga. Hawkins got the ball to start the first game of the tournament and held Huntington (Ind.) to one earned run through five innings while striking out seven. It was the Thunderbirds’ only win in the tournament.
The Swift Current 57s alum took the mound six times in his sophomore campaign before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season, as the Thunderbirds were limited to just 20 games on the year. Across both seasons, Hawkins pitched to a 3.63 ERA through 19 starts and 109 innings, striking out 115 batters while holding opponents to a .230 batting average.
For the 2020-21 campaign, the UBC Thunderbirds program was shut down as the club could not travel south of the border without being impacted by entry border restrictions. Within the Cascade Collegiate Conference, UBC is the only team north of the border.
With the season quashed, Hawkins set his sights on a new target to get some reps in before the draft – the MLB Draft League.
Created by Major League Baseball in 2021, the MLB Draft League is comprised of six teams and is broken down into two different segments. The first half of the season is for draft-eligible players who are looking to improve their stock prior to the draft while the second half (following the draft) is comprised of players who no longer have amateur eligibility and are looking to showcase their talents for potential opportunities in the form of free agent deals.
“I was happy to get into the draft league and be able to showcase my talents after the past two seasons at UBC being limited due to the pandemic,” Hawkins said.
“I knew that in its inaugural season, there would be a lot of scouts present and after I learned that I got in, I just went down and pitched as best as I could. Left it all out on the field.”
Pitching for the Trenton Thunder, Hawkins started six games and finished with a 2.63 ERA through 24 innings. He would finish with a 0.8 BB/9, a 12.0 K/9, and allowed just seven earned runs while posting a minuscule 4.9 H/9 during that time.
With such an impressive showcase with the Thunder and with a strong couple of seasons under his belt with the Thunderbirds, Hawkins heard his name called later that summer in the MLB Draft. The Padres used their ninth-round selection on Hawkins and the 6-foot-5 product would put pen to paper shortly after, turning professional and becoming the 25th Thunderbird drafted by an MLB team.
“Hearing your name called in the draft is such a surreal experience… it’s one that you don’t really expect as a player and I am just super fortunate that the Padres saw something in me and I could continue to keep playing baseball,” said Hawkins.
Following the draft and with the medicals out of the way, Hawkins got right to work with the ACL Padres in Peoria, Ariz., appearing in seven games as a reliever to round out the campaign, posting a 2.35 ERA through 15 1/3 innings. He didn’t allow an earned run until his third appearance, and he only had two contests where he allowed a run at all while striking out six batters on two separate outings.
That impressive showing following the draft saw Hawkins get promoted to Single-A to start the following year, where he moved back into the rotation for the Lake Elsinore Storm.
With his new club, Hawkins pitched to a 3.94 ERA while striking out opponents at a 12.5 K/9 rate while holding down a 1.197 WHIP through 17 starts. His best start of the year came on May 20 against the Visalia Rawhide, where he struck out 11 batters through six innings while allowing just two hits through the start.
He would finish the season in High-A with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, starting four games for the Padres’ affiliate. Boasting a mid-90s fastball and a changeup that sits roughly 10 MPH behind the heater, this velocity change combined with his height and command control helped throw off hitters in Single-A and is one of the main reasons his K/9 rate was highest amongst the starting staff.
Hawkins hopes to rediscover that form during his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery starting in January. While his 2024 campaign will be cut short, once he is healthy and ready to return to the mound, many eyes will be on the Biggar, Sask., product, who remains a highly regarded pitching prospect in the organization. He is currently ranked at #22 on the MLB Pipeline’s top prospect list.