Get all of your lame puns and Jodie Foster movie references ready, because the Giants have called up middle infield prospect Joe Panik, a player bound to please cheesy headline writers everywhere. Panik was called up this past weekend as the Giants desperately attempt to get some more production from second base. Not one to miss an opportunity for a dramatic entrance, apparently, Panik made an immediate impression on fans in his first start yesterday in Arizona, cashing in with a single and a long RBI double, and also making a nice defensive play on a slow infield chopper in the sixth inning.
Panik was the Giants’ first round pick in 2011, selected 29th overall out of St. John’s. I remember the pick being a bit of a shock within the industry. At the time, scouts and stat-minded folk alike both seemed to consider Panik a bit of a reach as a first rounder, with many in the industry simply seeing him as a low-ceiling utility infielder. Panik seemed intent on proving those early skeptics wrong, however, by hitting .341 in his first showing as a pro in A-ball in 2011. He followed that up with a strong season at High-A in 2012, hitting .297 with a .368 OBP.
The critics got back on him last season, though, as he struggled through a .257/.333/.347 season in AA. Despite the regression in his numbers, the Giants promoted him to AAA to start this year, and he flourished immediately. In 326 plate appearances at Fresno, Panik was hitting .321/.382/.447, basically daring the Giants to ignore him while their second baseman at the major league level failed to produce.
As it has become increasingly clear that Marco Scutaro might be done for, fans and scribes alike have been calling for Panik’s promotion for a couple of weeks now, and various “Free Joe Panik” handles began popping up all over Twitter. With Scutaro out all year, Giants second basemen have produced an unsightly .177/.269/.307 line. Brandon Hicks, for all his early season power heroics, has continued to lose his career-long battle with strikeouts and hasn’t done much in a month. Ehire Adrianza was no one’s idea of a good offensive option, and he’s fallen a bit out of favor with some recent defensive foibles. Joaquin Arias is a valuable platoon infielder, but of course he can’t hit righties at all.
With the Giants hitting their recent skid where they lost eight of nine games, including about three in horrifying fashion, it was, you guessed it, time to Panik. Panik was inserted into Sunday’s starting lineup and will almost certainly be given every chance to win the regular job, unless Scutaro’s back develops mutant healing abilities. If nothing else, the call up might provide a shot in the arm to a clubhouse reeling from a series of bad losses.
As mentioned, Panik never profiled as a big impact player. He never made anyone’s top 100 prospect list and very few prospect gurus even considered him an everyday player. However, after carrying a .296 batting average through the minor leagues, Panik seems primed to prove everybody wrong, or at least go down trying. His upside here is a high-average, high-OBP, low-strikeout infielder with doubles pop, almost like the left-handed version of Scutaro. He demonstrated an encouraging opposite-field approach in both of his two hits on Sunday.
With the pallid offensive output the Giants have received at second base so far, Panik has the opportunity here to quickly make his mark if he can just hit .280 and field the position well. If the outcry from the writers and the Twitterverse was any indication, he could easily become the most popular Giants rookie since Buster Posey.