On a clear, windy night at Municipal Stadium, San Jose Giants’ shortstop Joe Panik calmly approaches the plate.
With intense focus, the San Francisco Giants’ 2011 first-round draft pick does not blink an eye on a pitch outside-- ball 1.
The next pitch grazes the outside corner but is a hair outside says the home plate umpire--ball 2.
With the count 2-0, the poised young shortstop smacks a lead-off single up the middle.
As the Visalia Rawhide pitcher throws two more pitches to the next batter, Panik studies his move. After scouting the opposing pitcher, Panik takes second base unopposed.
The Rawhide never had a chance.
At just 22, Panik has the poise and knowledge of a 10-year, major-league veteran. Despite his potential, the up-and-coming infielder knows not to take anything for granted.
“I learned everybody works hard, no matter how talented you are,” Panik said. “Guys like Tim Lincecum, guys at the top in the game, they work harder than anybody. Definitely, take that approach because you want to get up there someday.”
Panik is no stranger to success. Last year, in his first professional season, he was the Northwest League Most Valuable Player with the Salem Keizer Volcanoes, the San Francisco Giants’ short-season Class A team.
That season, Panik batted .341, with six home runs and 54 RBIs in 69 games. He led the Northwest League in hitting, runs, hits, RBIs, and on-base percentage.
The infielder also earned All-American honors in 2011 while attending St. John’s University, batting .398 with 10 homeruns in 58 games. Baseball America rated Panik the No. 4 prospect in the Giants’ organization.
Currently, Panik is batting .268, with 17 doubles, 38 RBIs, and a respectable OBP of .350 in 71 games.
As a boy in Yonkers, watching the New York Yankees dominate, Panik has always been a student of baseball.
“Every little kid’s dream is to play baseball professionally,”Panik said. “To be able to live that dream, you definitely don’t take it for granted, and you definitely appreciate coming to the ballpark every day.”
In contrast to a see-the-ball, hit-the-ball style of many past Giants’ prospects (such as Pablo Sandoval and Hector Sanchez), Panik understands that patience, pitch recognition, and working the count are important. Panik prefers the “Moneyball” style.
“I’m not really a big power guy, so I try to be more patient, work walks, kind of go that way,” said Panik, who leads the Class-A Giants with 19 walks in 126 at-bats.
However, Panik will be sure not to miss his pitch.
“There are times where you have to jump early in the count, kind of mix it up a little bit,” Panik said.
Although Panik has a winning plate approach, he pushes himself to constantly improve.
“I’m starting to feel good,” Panik said. “I’ve been working every day in the cages and on the field. The swings are feeling really good, so good things are coming”
In addition to his grind-it-out offensive style, Panik admits he is not an Omar Vizquel-esque shortstop, but he believes he can be effective.
“I got a quick release,” Panik said. “I’m very accurate. I’m not the strongest of arms, but I get rid of it quick, and I still have a good baseball IQ where I understand the runners, how to handle certain balls, and how to get rid of it.”
On offense or defense, Panik maintains focus and does anything to help his team win.
“I always consider myself a competitor,” Panik said. “I might not have all the flashy tools, but I go out there day in and day out, and I feel like I’m a tough out and a guy who will get on base.”
Panik is second in the California League in strikeout ratio, punching out just once every 9.53 at-bats.
Like his team, Panik hopes for a successful transition from east to west.
“Growing up, I was a Yankees fan, just being from New York, but I won’t say that now,” Panik said with affirmation. “I’m definitely a Giants fan now.”