Hawpe looks to improve vs. lefties
Tucson - Of all the reasons why the Rockies believe their offense will go from acoustic to electric, the most obvious to the naked eye is Brad Hawpe.
While Willy Taveras provides a stolen-base threat and rookies Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta inject intrigue, Hawpe brings thunder. He's the one player in the Rockies lineup capable of ascending to all-star status with slight improvement.
In his first full season as a starter last year, he hit .292 with 22 home runs and 84 RBIs.
However, there's an underlying concern: Can Hawpe, with his physical, high-effort swing, hit left-handers well enough to develop into this season's Matt Holliday?
"If I didn't think that I could take the next step and last year was the best I could do, then I would just shut it down," Hawpe said. "My goal is to become one of the elite outfielders in the National League. Holliday moved toward that last year. It's time for me to come join him."
One statistic distinguished Holliday from Hawpe. Holliday finished with 602 at-bats, compared to 499 for Hawpe. The difference was traced to Hawpe's irregular appearances against left-handed pitchers, who held him to a .232 average in 69 at-bats.
Right-handed hitting Jeff Baker's spectacular September provides an interesting alternative against tough left-handers. Manager Clint Hurdle, though, said it's premature to typecast Hawpe, who believes Baker's presence will make Hawpe better.
"We are going to find Baker at-bats, but we want to give Brad every opportunity to take that next step," Hurdle said. "If he hits 10 points higher and takes a small step in every area, he's closing on .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. That's not hoping. That's factual. I think Brad can be a very special player."
Hawpe is more of a traditional power hitter. He has a big swing with many parts that relies heavily on timing. When in a groove, Hawpe sizzles, like last April when he batted .362. When out of sync, he sinks, as he did last July when he went homerless.
Hitting instructor Alan Cockrell recognizes Hawpe's hot-and-cold nature, stressing the importance of quality outs when Hawpe is grinding through a rough patch.
The inability to make consistent contact doomed Hawpe with runners in scoring position for much of the season (he was hitting .225 before his final 10 at-bats in those situations).
"A lot of it was learning and growing up. I had a really tough stretch there for about six weeks (right after the all-star break). I wasn't there offensively like I was before and that was compounded with runners on base," Hawpe said. "The guys in front of me were getting on, and I couldn't put the barrel on the ball and drive it to the middle of the field."
Hawpe, 27, has never lacked confidence. He's been an elite performer at every level dating from high school Legion ball to LSU to the minor leagues. He has made the successful transition from college first baseman to a strong-armed outfielder - his 26 assists over the past two seasons are the most in the big leagues.
Determined to carry a bigger load, Hawpe reported to camp larger. He said he weighs about 218 pounds - up 8 from a year ago - but maintained his flexibility by training with the TCU track team for the second consecutive offseason.
"I was starting to fatigue at the end of last season," Hawpe said. "I feel good at this weight, I am still mobile."
For Hawpe to move upward, he must produce more consistent swings. The nature of his hack - hands back, pronounced leg kick - makes him vulnerable to lefties. But more at-bats against them, explained Todd Helton, could solve that.
"If you're not playing every day, you get thrown straight out of your rhythm. I have confidence he will (hit left-handers), and have monster numbers," Helton said. "I don't understand why he doesn't get the respect he should."
If he achieves his goal, advancing from starter to all-star on a winning team, there will be no confusion. Only a genuine right turn.
For right fielder Brad Hawpe to become an all-star, an honor for which he was considered last season by National League manager Phil Garner, he must hit left-handers. A look at the numbers:
2006 Avg. AB HR RBIs
vs. LHP .232 69 3 10
vs. RHP .302 430 19 74
Career Avg. AB HR RBIs
vs. LHP .227 110 4 15
vs. RHP .284 799 30 125