This week’s player interview features the San Francisco Giants 2011 first round pick, and current San Jose Giants shortstop, Joe Panik. The St. John’s University product is coming of an MVP season with Salem-Keizer (.341, 6 HR, 54 RBIs) and is in his first full season with San Jose. He’s the No. 7 prospect in the Giants organization according to MLB.com.
It had to have been a big shift for you, being from New York, to come out to the west coast and play ball. Describe the transition you’ve had to make.
It’s been a smooth transition. I got a little taste of it last year in Salem, Oregon and with this year being my first full season, it’s been a good start so far.
You mention Salem. You spent last year, after being drafted, with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and you had a great season. How did that affect your confidence coming into this year with San Jose?
Yeah it’s huge for your confidence just knowing that you just went out there and proved what you can do right away; not really to everybody else, but to yourself, that you belong out here and can excel right away. It’s really important to get off to that start.
Talk about the differences you’ve seen coming from Low-A ball with Salem to Advanced-A ball?
Guys are more consistent at this level. They hit their spots more often and they aren’t making as many mistakes so when you get a chance to jump on a pitcher you have to take advantage of it because you might not get as many opportunities.
Do you think the better pitching has had a little bit of an effect on your batting average so far this year?
Yeah well you know it’s hard to hit .340 everywhere you go. I think it’s good to have a little adversity because things aren’t going to be easy everywhere you go. Its good to learn to get myself out of that and take it as a positive and work my way through it.
You were drafted as a shortstop out of Saint John’s, but you can play a little second base, as well. Have you gotten a sense of the organization’s place for you? Shortstop or second base?
I’ve been a shortstop my whole life so I would definitely say that I’m a shortstop at heart, but with regards to short or second, its really wherever they want me to be.
Talk about the grind of the baseball season. How much do you love it and how have you seen it wear on you now as you’re already at the amount of games you played last year with Salem?
You have to love it, and I certainly do. Being in Spring Training since February, you kind of learn how to deal with the daily grind and how to pace yourself and pace your body and how to put in the work everyday. Not only baseball but working with strength and conditioning so that your body is prepared to deal with it. It definitely helps mentally to get through the day when it’s tough.
I spoke with Andrew Susac about the opportunity to get a Spring Training invite and you got that as well. Tell me what that was like for you.
It was a great experience, just being able to be with the guys in the majors and the guys you see on TV. It was awesome being around them everyday and I picked up so much from them, just the knowledge and the experience. It was a wonderful opportunity.
This far into the season, what specific things are you working on to improve your game right now?
Right now I’m just working on being consistent with my at-bats and not giving at-bats away. I’m really just trying to grind away and just keep pushing myself. It’s good for myself to keep moving forward. We’ve got half the season left and there’s plenty of room to grow.
In trying to improve your game, how much time do you spend watching video of not only yourself, but of opponents? And if so, how have you seen that help improve your game?
We really don’t get much video of opponents right now but I’m always watching video of myself and seeing if there is anything changing with my swing. I’m always on top of that to make sure it’s as mechanically sound as it normally is.
You guys just came off of a 10-game losing streak. What did the team learn from that going forward?
It was a tough stretch to go through but we learned that if you want to get out of it you have to come together as a group; with not everyone pulling their own direction but pulling in one direction trying to get to that one goal.
Had you ever been part of a losing streak of that caliber before?
No this was the first one. It was tough, but it was good. I hate to say it but when that happens, something good usually comes out of it, and this group has gotten stronger mentally going forward.
Being more of a contact hitter than a power hitter, how does knowing that affect the way you practice? Do you strive to gain a little power or do you stick to what you do?
I’ve got to stick to what makes me a good hitter. If I try to start working on power than things with my swing just wouldn’t be the same. I’m not a big 6’4″ first baseman. I’m an average-sized guy so I’ve got to stick with what’s best and that is staying gap to gap, hitting doubles and getting on base for the big guys behind me. When I see guys behind me like Adam Duvall and Ricky [Oropesa], they’re hitting balls 450 feet and I’m just getting on base with singles. You want to be with those guys but you have to keep telling yourself to stick with what makes you “you”. That’s the key is to stay within yourself.