Connor Panas knew he had the potential to be a difference-maker for Class A Lansing. He just needed a chance to prove it.
Panas homered for the fourth straight game, smacking a solo shot in the seventh inning of the Lugnuts' 2-1 victory over the Great Lakes Loons on Wednesday at Dow Diamond. The 23-year-old has five long balls in his last six games and has reached base in 18 straight.
"I guess I'm just putting really good swings, aggressive swings on the ball," Panas said. "And I think it has to do with a lot of confidence at the plate right now, how I'm carrying myself."
The 2015 ninth-round pick struggled to find playing time early in his full-season debut, appearing in 24 games over the season's first two months. A third baseman by trade, Panas was blocked at the position by No. 25 Blue Jays prospect Carl Wise, the club's fourth-round pick the same year. Entering the game, he had made 28 appearances in the crowded Lugnuts outfield and three at first base.
A handful of callups to Class A Advanced Dunedin finally gave Panas a chance to have some time and space.
"The first half of the season, I knew my role," he said. "I didn't play too much. I was just waiting for whenever I got a chance. At the end of the first [half], I started getting in every day and got to see more consistent at-bats, more pitches. That really helped, just getting me in a groove to where I am right now."
Panas started slowly against No. 22 Dodgers prospect Imani Abdullah on Wednesday. The Loons starter struck him out in the second and fourth innings, but he quickly shook those at-bats off.
"Short memory," the native of Toronto, Ontario said. 'You can't have a long memory in this game, because it will kill you."
The payoff came in the seventh when Panas ripped a changeup from reliever Chris Powell (2-2) over the wall in right-center field. The Cansius College product said out of his nine home runs on the year, seven have come on that exact pitch.
"I always hunch fastball, and maybe just with the swing, it's elevated and my barrel just goes right into it and connects," he explained.
Panas stands one dinger off the Midwest League lead in home runs. Seven of his have come in the month of June, tied for the second-most in all of Class A during that stretch. The 6-footer said he always figured he was capable of such a run.
"I can have the potential to be a power hitter," Panas said. "I'm just showing consistency with it. If I hit for high average, that's good too. But ... I'm a big strong guy. If i put a good swing on the ball, i have a chance to maybe hit it out."
Toronto's seventh-ranked prospect Max Pentecost went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, snapping his on-base streak after 23 games. J.C. Cardenas finished 2-for-4 with a double and plated the Lugnuts' other run.
Reliever Nate Abel (2-0) walked a batter and struck out two over 2 2/3 hitless frames in relief of starter Jordan Romano, while Starlyn Suriel allowed two hits and fanned two over the final two innings for his second save.
Abdullah scattered four hits and struck out five over five scoreless innings for Great Lakes.