Slugging San Jose red hot

             For years, the Giants farm system has been synonymous with pitching. This year, however, things have changed.

             Take High-A affiliate San Jose. Oh, they’re still the New York Yankees of the California League – winning six league championships since 1998, and having advanced to the postseason in each of the last eight seasons. What’s changed this year, though, is the way they are doing it.

            San Jose is shaping up to be an offensive juggernaut in 2012. The Class-A Giants are off to a 9-2 start, their best start in recent history, while hitting .293 as a team, good for second in the California League. And, they are doing so with three starters embarking on their first full year of professional baseball.

            Much hubbub was made over San Jose’s 2009 squad, and with good reason. The team produced two starters on the big squad’s 2012 opening day roster in Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford. Several others, such as Conor Gillaspie and Roger Kieschnick, look to be on the brink of breaking in to the majors.

            The 2012 San Jose Giants have a chance to produce a special crop it their own right. Sure, they may not have the surefire blue-chip franchise prospect that Buster Posey was. Then again, the Giants were able to draft Posey by virtue of possessing the No. 6-overall pick in the draft – a product of one of the worst seasons in modern San Francisco Giants history. The 2011 draft class was assembled with the Giants drafting 29th overall. Still, they have plenty of polished college players to show for it.

            Joe Panik is the talk of the town thus far, and rightly so. The 2011 first-round pick out of St. John’s made quite a splash last year in short-season ball. He surprised the baseball world just days after the draft by signing early – almost unheard of in this day and age by first-round picks. But, he wanted to play ball, and play he did, tearing it up to the tune of a .341 batting average, en route to Northwest League MVP honors.

            This year, Panik is picking up right where he left off. The left-handed hitting shortstop is currently batting .293, with outstanding peripherals – nine RBIs, six doubles, with eight walks against just four strikeouts.

            San Jose also touts two positional starters who made their professional debuts with the team this season. Ricky Oropesa is a 6-foot-2 left-handed slugging first baseman who was drafted in the third round last year out of USC, who is currently hitting for a .324 average. And, catcher Andrew Susac has started all but one game for San Jose. Although he is struggling with just a .200 average thus far, he has good tools both sides of the ball, and got the stamp of approval from San Jose manager Andy Skeels, who said Susac will catch in the big leagues someday.

            With a double-header sweep of Bakersfield Sunday, the Giants finished a four-game sweep in their first home series of the year. They will host Dodgers affiliate Rancho Cucamonga Monday night in the first of a three-game. Scheduled to take the mound for Rancho Cucamonga is former Stanford southpaw Chris Reed, who was drafted in the first round (16th pick overall) last year.

            A closer at Stanford who notched nine saves in 2009 for the Cardinal, Reed has been moved into a starting role this season. In two starts, the 22-year-old lefty is currently 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA, though he has struck out 13 batters over nine innings.

            First pitch at Municipal Stadium Monday is scheduled for 7 p.m.


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