If it seems Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik — the Giants’ All-Star middle-infield combination — have been turning double plays together for years, it’s because they have.
Back in 2011, just months after Crawford had debuted with the big-league club and Panik had been selected in the first round of the draft, the Giants sent the young infielders to the Arizona Fall League for extra work.
“We played a lot together that fall and got to develop a little bit of a connection back then,” Crawford said.
While the Giants had drafted Panik as a shortstop, it was during those fall days in the desert that the young prospect was beginning his transition to shortstop and his ascent to the majors.
For Panik, the focus was on mastering a new defensive assignment, but he admitted that the idea of one day playing together with Crawford at AT&T Park crossed his mind.
“[It was] kind of in the back of my head,” Panik said. “I don’t think going into it I thought of it like that, but kind of towards the end of it, I was like, ‘This could definitely happen.’”
Even though he made just a single error in 27 games for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Panik described the transition as a challenge.
“That was like my first taste at second base. So, Crawford’s seen me from my first game at second base and how, I don’t want to say raw, but let’s say I wasn’t what I am today,” Panik said. “He’s had to deal with me from a lot worse.”
Crawford offered a far more favorable review of Panik’s early work at second base.
“He was new to the position,” Crawford said. “You could see it a little bit, but you could see the athleticism that he had. That he was going to be able to transfer over there pretty well.”
Crawford was spot-on in his assessment. Thanks to impressive first-half performances from both infielders, Crawford and Panik will be heading to Great American Ball Park for the All-Star Game on Tuesday night. That puts the rising stars in exclusive company.
It marks just the third time in Giants’ history that their starting shortstop and second baseman have earned All-Star selections in the same season. Jeff Kent and Rich Aurilia were the last Giants to accomplish that feat in 2001.
Crawford, who grew up a Giants fan in Pleasanton, appreciates the enormity of being linked to Aurilia, one of the more accomplished shortstops in team history.
“It’s a huge honor. I watched him growing up — saw how good of a player he was,” Crawford said. “So, it’s awesome to be on a list like that with him.”
Panik also shares a connection to the former Giant great, as both he and Aurilia were standouts at St. John’s University.
“Richie’s a St. John’s guy,” Panik said. “So, we have a nice relationship.”
Panik has also developed a nice relationship with Crawford. Ever since those Fall League days, Panik has looked up to his partner. Now, their lockers are right next to each other in the clubhouse.
“From the day I got called up here, he just had that calming mentality out there. Like I could look over there — even in tight situations — he’s just calm,” Panik said. “This was when I was first going through everything, and now, we’re just on the same page. Always joking out there, smiling. But he definitely kind of helped me getting through the tough times in the beginning.”
The tough times have definitely passed for Panik, who’s sporting the best OPS among National League second basemen in his first full major-league season. While Panik has been doing damage with his bat, he is most pleased by his play in the field.
“For me as a middle infielder, I take more pride in defense than offense,” he said. “So, I am happy — don’t get me wrong — I’m very happy with the way I’ve been swinging the bat, you know, the OPS and all that stuff. It’s been a good year [on] both sides of the ball.”
Meanwhile for Crawford, who’s always been known as a glove-first shortstop, 2015 has been a banner year at the plate. Already, he has set a career high with 12 home runs to go with 50 RBIs.
“I’ve hit a little bit more consistently. Not so much recently, but power has been there consistently,” Crawford said. “I think that’s probably the biggest change from the previous years.”
For the way that Crawford and Panik have been producing at the plate and in the field, the Giants look set up the middle for years to come. But before worrying about that future, Crawford and Panik will be enjoying their trip to Cincinnati.