Amateur talent in the northeastern part of the country is tough to come by and even tougher to scout when you do come by it. One of the first round one players I saw as a amateur was former St. John’s shortstop Joe Panik who was selected 29th overall by the San Francisco Giants in 2011. A shortstop in college, Panik spent most of his time in 2013 at second base.
Joe Panik has your commonplace middle infielder body. He’s a relatively thin 6’1”, 190lbs with long limbs. He is not overly physical but also isn’t so wiry that you’re concerned he’s going to have the bat knocked out of his hands. There’s still some projection left here and I do think Panik will put on some weight as he ages. How that weight will impact his game remains to be seen. It’s possible it could allow him to hit for more power than he does right now (which isn’t much) but it could also sap the already fringe range he has at second base.
Let’s keep it right there and address the defense. Panik has below average speed and his first step and reactions aren’t quick enough to hide it in the field enough for him to play shortstop every day. Not for me, anyway. The arm is average both on strength and accuracy. The hands and feel for the position are just okay. I’ve seen Panik make some fine plays toward the bag from both directions and I’ve also seen him make an adventure out of plays that I regard as routine. He could probably play a passable short for some, but my personal tastes prefer an above average defender at the position unless the bat is exceptional.
Panik’s bat is not. The pure bat-to-ball skills are really interesting. I put a future 55 on Panik’s hit tool. He’s short to the ball and displays good eye-hand coordination. He sports a simple, toe-tap stride and closes before he takes a nice, balanced swing. The bat speed is not good and, as a result, Panik just doesn’t hit the baseball very hard all that often, though he does show the ability to spray balls in every direction. I have a 35 on the power right now but I think that contact skills are good enough that he’ll hit his share of doubles in the gaps. I project the power to a 4.
So what kind of value does a player like this possess? There’s not enough glove to play shortstop (not that he’d play there for San Francisco anyway with Brandon Crawford there right now) and not bat to make you say, “Screw it” and stick him there anyway. Is there enough of both for him to play everyday at second base? We’ve seen players like this succeed there before. Marco Scutaro has had a nice career with a similar skill set (though his is a true plus hit tool and might be more) as did Randy Velarde and Tony Graffanino. One thing those guys have/had that Panik doesn’t right now is some positional versatility. Panik has worked at 2B and SS but I’d like to see him log some practice time in other places. The way the Giants have groomed him thus far suggests that they think he can be an everyday secondbaseman. The lack of pop would relegate him to second-division status for me if that’s the case. You could certainly do worse. Panik did not have a good year in 2013 and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he's sent back to Double-A to begin 2014.