After the St. John's baseball team suffered a tough 4-3 NCAA Tournament loss to Arkansas last night to end their stellar 2015 campaign, Red Storm fans can take some solace in their current most notable alum playing in the MLB, Joe Panik, as he continues to make major league headlines for the San Francisco Giants.
Panik, a Yonkers, N.Y. native, played second base at St. John's from 2009-11 before being drafted by the Giants late in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft. After making his major league debut just under one year ago in June 2014, Panik would have a stellar rookie season for the Giants, hitting .305 and scoring 82 runs in just 73 games.
Panik remained a major factor for the Giants throughout their World Series run last year. Despite hitting only .233 in the postseason, he appeared in all 17 of San Francisco's games and drove in eight runs in the process, including three in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals.
In the deciding Game 7 of that World Series he also made what many sportswriters called one of the greatest plays in MLB playoff history, turning a ridiculous 4-6-3 double play on Kansas City's Eric Hosmer that would help lead to a Giants victory.
But that play may have served as a symbol of Panik's first year in San Francisco, solid with his glove in the field but not a very feared hitter.
He was really only brought up last season as a temporary solution to the Giants second base problem, but as he hung around and made the opening day lineup in 2015, Panik has really started to come into his own at the plate as well. He's already hit four home runs in 49 games this season, including one yesterday, and that's three more than the single homer that he hit in 73 games in 2014.
Despite a slightly lower batting average so far this season, Panik's OPS has jumped up over 100 points from last year, and he's drawn more walks and driven in more runs than he did in all of 2014 as well.
By proving that he's more than just a contact hitter who can get on base and play defense, Panik has solidified himself in the Giants lineup for the foreseeable future, but the question now becomes, can he be considered an All-Star?
San Francisco Giants blog McCovey Chronicles took a look at that question today, with writer Grant Brisbee examining the St. John's Alum's chances at making the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati this year.
Ultimately. Brisbee would write, "If the question is ‘Will Joe Panik make the All-Star team?' the outlook is good. If the question is more, ‘Is Joe Panik a deserving All-Star?' We won't know for another month. So far, though, he's a lot closer than anyone figured he would be this early in his career. He's probably closer than anyone figured he would have ever been."
Panik also received praise through some advanced statistics today from Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, who would write, "Panik is changing, and Panik is growing. Panik is hitting the ball with more selective authority, and he hasn't even sacrificed any contact. While Panik will never blossom into a slugger, he can turn into a guy who slugs more pitches."
Behind Panik, his double play partner Brandon Crawford, catcher Buster Posey, and a strong pitching staff led by World Series hero Madison Bumgarner, after two months of play the Giants look like they will be right in contention for another playoff run again this season.