By: Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Joe Panik, Second baseman, San Francisco Giants
2014 season (Minors): 74 G, 293 AB, .321 BA, 5 HR, 45 RBI, 3 SB, .829 OPS
2014 season (Majors): 73 G, 269 AB, .305 BA, 1 HR, 18 RBI, 0 SB, .711 OPS
A 2011 first-round Draft pick out of St. John’s University, Joe Panik had a meteoric rise to Major League glory last season — not only putting up impressive numbers as the Giants’ new second baseman in 73 regular season games, but also helping San Francisco earn its third World Series championship in the past five years.
Though he never made any overall MLB top 100 prospect lists, Panik was highly regarded in the Giants’ system and really put it all together in Triple-A to start last season. Using a smart, patient approach at the plate, Panik posted a .382 OBP in 74 games for Fresno last season — his highest mark since his first year in low A ball. He parlayed that into a starting job with the Giants and never slowed down. Even his first postseason at age 23 (the Giants won the World Series one day before his 24th birthday — not a bad present) couldn’t faze Panik. He hit near the top of the order much of the playoffs, mostly out of the No. 2 spot, and drove in three key runs and recorded six hits in the World Series.
With the second-base job locked down and the No .2 spot mostly secured, Panik goes to work on establishing himself as one of the more consistent, reliable middle infielders in the league in 2015.
Panik isn’t going to wow anyone with his numbers. He hit just 22 homers and stole 36 bases in 410 Minor League games, and there isn’t really much power or speed potential to speak of. But unlike many young hitters, Panik can work walks and doesn’t strike out much (just 33 in 269 at-bats last year). He is a contact hitter with reasonable speed on the bases, and hitting at the top of a strong Giants lineup should give him plenty of chances to score runs if he keeps his average and OBP up around where it was both in the Minors and with the Giants last season.
The 24-year-old didn’t have a great spring, though he did hit a surprising three homers. As mentioned before, the power potential isn’t very high. Steamer projections have him hitting five homers and stealing four bases in 127 games this year and also predict a dip in batting average, but other projection systems are a bit more bullish. There will be an adjustment period in his sophomore season as pitchers see him more and the scouting reports increase, but everything about his demeanor and the way he’s handled his progression to each level, along with the job security he has at second with the Giants, indicate he can make the necessary adjustments for continued success in the Major Leagues.