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Baseball alums take a swing at professional ball

(DON FERIA/isiphotos.com)

Zach Hoffpauir and Drew Jackson were tearing up Pac-12 pitching before they were selected in this June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, and they’ve certainly made it look easy at the next level as well, as both of the departed juniors have greatly impressed at the plate in their first forays into professional baseball.

Hoffpauir, who was drafted in the 22nd round by his hometown Arizona Diamondbacks, was initially assigned to the Rookie-level Missoula Osprey — but he didn’t remain there for long.

(BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)
Zach Hoffpauir (right) struggled with a wrist injury during his last season with the Cardinal, but he still managed to lead the team in home runs with 4. His post-Stanford career has taken him to the Missoula Osprey and now the Hillsboro Hops. (BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)

The outfielder made an immediate impact in his short stint in Missoula, leading the team with a .385 batting average, 2 home runs and 5 RBIs through his first seven games, which led to a quick call-up to the Diamondbacks’ Class A Short-Season affiliate, the Hillsboro Hops.

Although Hoffpauir’s bat has slowed down some in the seven games since his promotion, he has hit safely in five of his seven games as part of the Hops and also smacked his first home run at the level on Sunday against Spokane.

Meanwhile, Jackson, who was taken in the fifth round by the Seattle Mariners and was Stanford’s highest draft selection, has certainly lived up to that billing. After being assigned to the Class A Short-Season Everett AquaSox, Jackson immediately settled into the starting shortstop role and has become a mainstay between the fifth and seventh spots in the lineup.

(DON FERIA/isiphotos.com)
Drew Jackson (above) was Stanford’s highest draft selection this year and has thrived with the Class A Short-Season Everett AquaSox. (DON FERIA/isiphotos.com)

The shortstop leads the AquaSox in stolen bases with 13 in his 20 games, and is also second on his squad in hitting, earning a .299 batting average. He also started his professional career red-hot, hitting safely in 11 of his first 12 games in the Seattle organization.

Both Hoffpauir and Jackson could draw additional promotions as the season wears on if they can keep up their hot hitting, particularly as the July 31 MLB trade deadline looms and teams’ rosters at all levels of the minor leagues become more fluid to accommodate all of the personnel moves.

The next step for both of them would be a move to Class A (“Low-A”), which gives players a taste of a full, everyday professional season for the first time in their careers. (The Rookie and Short-Season levels are designed to ease that transition for high school and collegiate draftees, who are accustomed to only playing a few games every week.)

Class A-Advanced (“High-A”) would then be their final stop in the “low minors” before they would work their way up into Double-A and Triple-A in the future, which usually serve as a player’s final stops before moving into the major leagues.

And on the topic of players making their final stops before making their big-league debuts, Stanford has four recent alumni — Mark Appel ‘13, Kenny Diekroeger ‘12, Stephen Piscotty ‘12 and Austin Slater ‘14 — who are on the cusp after steadily making their way up their respective systems’ ladders.

Appel and Piscotty could very reasonably get their first big-league call-ups this season. Due to injuries to both an aging Matt Holliday and Jon Jay, it is increasingly likely that Piscotty, an outfielder, will see a spot open up in what was once a crowded St. Louis Cardinals outfield.

By many accounts, Piscotty is expected to get his call sometime this month in order to spell the Cardinals in both the outfield and at first base, where he has been taking additional reps following Matt Adams’ injury and Mark Reynolds’ struggles.

At roughly the halfway point of the season, Piscotty is hitting a robust .275 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs for the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, in his second season at that level. Given his production, if he doesn’t get a call-up before then, he’s a virtual lock to see time in a Cardinals uniform when rosters expand in September.

Appel, meanwhile, has been fast-tracked through the Astros’ system (as the former No. 1 overall pick) but has slowed down as of late. Although the Astros seemed to need starting pitching urgently as recently as a season ago, the emergence of young phenoms like Dallas Keuchel (who will start the All-Star Game for the American League), Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers has greatly stemmed the Astros’ need for starters.

As a result, Appel, who has struggled at virtually all of his stops in the minors, will likely stay in a holding pattern at Triple-A Fresno for the foreseeable future and could potentially see time on the Astros as part of September roster expansions. He is looking to join former Stanford star Jed Lowrie ‘05 in Houston, where he would also be managed by another former Cardinal, skipper A.J. Hinch ‘96.

Slater and Diekroeger are likely still a year or two away from potential Major League time, but both have been impressive at the plate on their respective Double-A teams. Slater recently earned a promotion from High-A San Jose to Double-A Richmond in the San Francisco Giants organization, where he has hit .278 through 15 games, making him the most advanced prospect out of Stanford’s 2014 draft class (ignoring Wayne Taylor’s brief Triple-A cameo).

Diekroeger, the former fourth-round pick, has spent the majority of his time in the Kansas City Royals’ organization this season in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, although he did get a brief stint in Triple-A Omaha as well. The second baseman is hitting .259 and will likely be involved in the battle for that position at the Major League level in a few years, as Omar Infante is currently signed through 2017 with a team option for 2018.

Wherever you look, former Stanford standouts are chomping at the bit to make their cases as professional baseball mainstays, and as the older generation of Cardinal players like Sam Fuld, Jeremy Guthrie and Lowrie surpass the primes of their careers, exciting new faces are almost ready to take their places.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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