The Giants have held on to first place in the National League West despite not having second baseman Marco Scutaro all season and with Brandon Hicks possessing a .627 OPS at the position. But San Francisco had lost nine of 10 before beating Arizona Saturday and Sunday and has seen its lead on the Dodgers slip to four games.
While it may not be time to panic—yet—the Giants decided that it is time for Joe Panik. The team called up its 2011 first-rounder Saturday night, even as Scutaro plans to begin a minor league rehab assignment for his ailing back.
Drafted out of St. John’s, Panik was regarded as a polished college player. Labrum surgery after his freshman year robbed him of the ability to make throws from shortstop, and he’s played second base almost exclusively since reaching Double-A Richmond in 2013.
Panik manipulates the barrel well and has a short, compact lefthanded swing that generates gap power and consistent hard contact. But after he struggled at Double-A last season, evaluators began to believe he lacked the bat speed to compete at higher levels.
Panik, however, has hit very well at Triple-A Fresno this season and at 23 is young for the league. He’s a steady defender at both middle-infield spots but would not be able to play shortstop on a regular basis, one evaluator said. Instead, he profiles more as a future utility infielder who makes contact.
The Giants are not ready to pin the utility label on Panik, of course, especially not after he showed life with the bat by hitting .321/.382/.447 with 23 extra-base hits in 74 games at Fresno.
What To Expect
The Giants want Panik to develop, so they will not have him sit the bench when Scutaro returns, which means a quick return to Triple-A is possible. The club sees a contact-oriented No. 2 hitter in the mold of the veteran incumbent. He has handled lefthanders in the minors, especially this year, going 23-for-64 (.359) in a small sample, but he’s always shown an advanced approach with a lean toward patience.
While Panik controls the strike zone, he doesn’t hit for abundant power or steal many bases, so his fantasy value will be dependent on what he hits on balls in play. For example, he hit .257 in 2013, partially the result of a .285 average on balls in play, but he rebounded to a .346 BABIP this year, and his average rose accordingly. He will probably find middle ground in the majors.
With Scutaro’s health for 2014 still very much in question, Panik is at least someone to consider stashing in deeper NL-only leagues if you need middle-infield help.