Trenton, New Jersey- Leadership is a key word when talking about Joe Panik.
And that aspect of him as a player garners quite a comparison.
"A lot of of us in the organization said he reminded us of Buster Posey," said Richmond Flying Squirrels hitting coach Ken Joyce. "In the sense that he has that same demeanor. He has that attitude in the way he goes about his business. He's professional, came from a decent family, and a good school at St. John's."
All of that is integral in helping the infielder, who is starting the season with a lot on his plate. Expectations (#4 ranked prospect in the Giants system by Baseball America) and a switch in position from shortstop to second base.
But none of that appears distracting to Panik.
"I've learned, especially with college and the [MLB] Draft, to ignore it and not pay attention," said Panik, 22. "Because a lot of the stuff they say is either too good, or some of the bad stuff is too bad. So I've learned to say, 'You know what?' Just ignore it. Concentrate on the game you've played ever since you were a little kid.
The Eastern League is always a big test for any player, as is any Double-A league. There's less errors to take advantage of. The challenges multiply. Panik is more humbled by that, than feeling over-matched
"Yeah, pitchers are a lot more consistent, that's for sure. They don't make too many mistakes. So you have to capitalize on it," Panik said.
In a game against the Trenton Thunder on April 11th, he showed impressive composure at the plate. Batting second (behind shortstop Ehire Adrianza), Panik worked hitter's counts consistently and made good contact with each plate appearance. It was in the 9th that he really turned on the lights. He took advantage of a struggling Thunder bullpen, hitting a two-out triple to right-center. His line-drive approach was good, but not enough to get the ball out of the infield. He never took a bad swing at pitches he couldn't handle.
That approach might be attributable to his mentality, as much as his natural ability.
"I'll tell you what, he's a very mature player. Very close to being polished when he came out of St. John's [1st round, 2011]," said Joyce. "I [worked] with him in the Arizona Fall League two years ago and he had just got done playing short-season. He was on a team with Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Brandon Crawford, and Wil Middlebrooks. And here's a kid who just started professional baseball, and was actually getting their attention. He hit .300 in that league just coming out of college. He's a guy that can swing the bat, uses the whole field, knows what his limits are, and has a good work ethic."
His ability to be selective was on display in that game, but Panik sees room for improvement.
"[I need to] become more consistent with pitch selection. When I try to do too much with a pitch, that's when I get into trouble. It's just patience."
The decision to move Panik from the middle of the infield to second was a period of adjustment, but one he embraced entering Spring Training.
"I played shortstop my whole life. And so playing second base was the main thing I worked on. Spring Training I was getting used to the turns. It was just about getting comfortable and taking a lot of ground balls. I definitely feel almost natural now."
In 2012, he hit .297, with 76 RBI and 58 walks in the California League. He was third in the league in hits with 159. Post-All Star break, he hit .324, and .337 with runners in scoring position.
So far this year he's hitting .235, with 4 RBI and 3 walks.
"I was pretty excited to come to the Eastern League, making the jump from High-A to Double-A. I was looking forward to it. So far I've gotten off to a good start and I've really gotten comfortable with the competition. Going forward, I'm very confident."
As a leader, he takes a performance-approach to the role. He knows who he is, even now.
"I like to be a leader through my actions on the field. I'm not one of those guys and get in someone's face. I pride myself on doing things the right way."