Joe Panik and Ricky Oropesa, along with six other former San Jose Giants, will begin play in the Arizona Fall League next week. Gary Brown and Heath Hembree are also among the top prospects that have been chosen to participate in the prestigious fall league. The 32-game AFL season begins on October 9.
Panik enjoyed a terrific 2012 campaign with San Jose that saw the former first round draft pick hit .297 with seven home runs and 76 RBI's. Panik, who was named the Giants' co-Most Valuable Player, finished third in the California League in hits (159) and fifth in runs scored (93) while registering more walks (58) than strikeouts (54). The 21-year old showed tremendous improvement as the year progressed batting at a .337 clip in the second half, including .379 during the month of August. Panik was also recognized for his work in the field earning the California League's top defensive shortstop honor according to league managers in a survey conducted by Baseball America.
Oropesa debuted professionally with the San Jose Giants in 2012 as the first base prospect batted .263 with 16 home runs and 98 RBI's. His 30 doubles led the Giants while he also ranked tied for fourth in the league in RBI's. Oropesa was a third round selection by the San Francisco Giants in 2011.
For Panik, this marks a return trip to the Arizona Fall League. After his Northwest League MVP season in 2011, Panik ventured to the AFL where he .323 in 27 games and played in the Rising Stars Game. Oropesa, meanwhile, will be making his first appearance in the fall league. Both players will be looking to make the jump to the upper levels of the Giants farm system next spring, most likely with Double-A Richmond.
Brown and Hembree, two key members of San Jose's 2011 club, have also been selected to play in the Arizona Fall League this season. Brown spent all of this year with Richmond and hit .279 with seven homers, 42 RBI's and 33 stolen bases. Brown saw action in the AFL last season as well and should receive his first taste of Triple-A next spring.
Hembree, regarded as the top relief pitcher prospect in the system at the start of 2012, made 39 appearances in Fresno this year and posted a 4.74 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 38 innings. His 15 saves were tied for the team-lead. Hembree missed over a month during the second half of the season due to an arm injury, so the Arizona Fall League gives the right-hander an opportunity to finish the year on a strong note.
Both Brown and Hembree figure to be leading candidates within the organization to earn their major league debuts at some point in 2013.
Other former San Jose Giants headed to the Arizona Fall League include outfielder Chris Dominguez and pitchers Jacob Dunnington, Chris Gloor and Dan Runzler. Dominguez, who made the transition from third base to outfield at the start of the year, hit just .235 with five home runs between Richmond (49 games) and Fresno (43 games) this season. It was often a frustrating 2012 for Dominguez (including a stint on the disabled list to end the year), but his premium power and outstanding throwing arm still make the slugger an intriguing prospect within the farm system.
Dunnington finished the year with the Flying Squirrels and posted a 1.76 ERA over 13 relief appearances. The right-hander is still only 21 years old and has averaged well over a strikeout per inning pitched throughout his professional career. Gloor also pitched for Richmond in 2012, beginning out of the bullpen before moving into the starting rotation in June. Overall, the left-hander logged a 4-5 record with a 2.81 ERA in 32 games (13 starts). Dominguez, Dunnington and Gloor all played with San Jose during parts of 2011.
Finally, Runzler will get an opportunity to pitch in the Arizona Fall League after a portion of his 2011 season was cut short due to injury. Runzler joined San Jose on a rehabilitation assignment in June before working out of the Fresno bullpen for the duration of the minor league season (6.00 ERA in 29 games). He was then a September call-up to San Francisco and has pitched well in a limited role (no runs allowed in 3 2/3 innings). The left-hander, who has made 89 career appearances at the big league level over the last four seasons, should be one of the more experienced players in this year's Arizona Fall League.
All eight players will suit up for the Scottsdale Scorpions with the AFL season continuing through November 17. Prospects from the Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations will make-up the Scottsdale club. Check sjgiants.com in the coming weeks and months for frequent updates on these players and others during the winter league season.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.