Rookie Panik showing knack for rising to stage
SAN FRANCISCO -- Following his selection by the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, I saw second baseman Joe Panik playing in the Arizona Fall League. What an autumn he had.
Panik was chosen as the 29th overall pick in the Draft after playing college ball at St. John's University. He hit .398 with 10 homers and 57 RBIs in his junior year, and he was named the team's Most Valuable Player. Panik also won countless other awards and honors for his stellar performance.
Playing exclusively second base for the Scottsdale Scorpions during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, Panik finished with a batting average of .323 in 27 games. He had 30 hits in 102 plate appearances. Included were six doubles, a triple and two home runs. Panik had 13 RBIs and drew nine walks. Most importantly, he showed he makes consistent contact. Panik struck out only 10 times the entire fall. Defensively, he made only one error in 117 total chances. I liked everything I saw on both offense and defense.
I mention Panik's first Fall League season because he looked comfortable and confident at second base. It's important to note that after signing with the Giants, he was assigned to Class A Short-Season Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League, where he played all 68 games at shortstop. Not at second base. After that rookie season, Panik went to the Fall League, where his future Giants teammate Brandon Crawford and current Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura were the primary shortstops on his team. That's why Panik played second.
Panik returned to shortstop the following spring and remained there until 2013 at Double-A Richmond. There he played all but 20 games at second base. Now, after beginning this year playing 61 of 71 games at second for Triple-A Fresno, Panik seems firmly entrenched as the starting second baseman for the National League champion Giants.
Some baseball people projected Panik as a utility player. However, an injury to Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro provided an opportunity. In fact, he was one of several second basemen the team used this past season. At the age of 23, Panik made his Major League debut May 22, and has remained a fixture at second base since.
Panik doesn't have any overwhelming tool. He does most things well. Panik is a grind-it-out player with a terrific attitude. He should be able to hit for a good average, get on base, score runs and steal a base when it's needed. Panik won't show much power. However, he smoked a loud triple against the Royals in Game 1 of the World Series.
Defensively, Panik's range at second base is fine. His arm strength and throwing accuracy are average as well. Panik is able to make every routine play and can even turn heads with a gem every now and then. He's reliable defender, but he isn't flashy.
At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Panik is solidly built and has enough strength to hit the gaps, as he did in Game 1. The left-handed hitter has a very simple, uncomplicated plan at the plate. He looks for fastballs he can drive and is prepared to adjust to secondary pitches. Panik continues to make excellent contact with a short, measured stroke, using the entire field with a foul-line-to-foul-line approach. His bat control is very solid, as he can waste pitches with foul balls and take pitchers deep into counts. Panik's baseball instincts are well advanced, resulting in good overall in-game decision making.
While Panik doesn't have blazing speed, he knows how to steal a base and has to be watched carefully.
In this World Series, Panik has similar qualities as his Kansas City Royals second-base counterpart, Omar Infante. While Infante is a seasoned veteran with 13 years of experience, he and the younger Panik can help their teams with consistent contact hitting. Especially when they're at the plate in clutch situations.
Panik helped stabilize the Giants' infield at a time of need. Hitting .305 this past season, he responded to Major League pitching with a better-than-expected initiation to big league baseball.