The San Francisco Giants have won three of the past five World Series. With a run like that, it usually means you’ve kept the same productive core of players together. While for the most part that is indeed the case with the Giants dynasty, they have played with a different 2nd baseman in each of those World Series.
Not since the days of Ray Durham, who held the position down from 2003 to 2008, have the Giants had a steady 2nd baseman in their lineup year after year. Joe Panik is hoping to change all that, and is proving game after game that he’s in the Bay Area to stay. The Phillies will get a good look at him when they take on the Giants in this final series before the All-Star break at AT&T Park this weekend.
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After stepping in as the starter last season and winning the 2014 World Series with the Giants, the 24-year-old Panik has followed it up with his first All-Star Game selection in 2015.
Panik was the 29th overall pick by the Giants in the 2011 draft out of St. John’s University in New York. Originally drafted as a shortstop, he moved to second base during the 2013 season while playing with AA Richmond. Panik would need just three years in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut.
As a minor leaguer, Panik became known for his discipline at the plate and his ability to make contact. In those three minor league seasons, he accumulated a .296 average and a .365 on-base percentage. Panik was also nearly impossible to strike out. In 1620 at-bats, Panik struck out just 180 times (11% K rate). To further put this into context, it should be noted that Panik had just nine fewer walks in his minor league career than strikeouts.
A native of Yonkers, N.Y., Panik was called up to the big leagues in June of last year to take over a position that had been a revolving door for the team. The projected starter, Marco Scutaro, suffered a back injury before the season started, and the Giants were forced to play Brandon Hicks, a journeyman infielder who had a solid spring for the Giants in 2014.
Hicks’ great spring didn’t carry over into the regular season, and after trying a few other players at the position, they eventually gave the reigns to Panik, who took the opportunity and ran with it. In a competitive NL West division last season, Panik provided a spark to the Giants offense by hitting .305 in 73 games with a .343 OBP. He was also solid defensively, committing just 8 errors in 324 total chances.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Panik. He hit only .210 over his first 20 big league games, and even lost playing time to Braves cast-off Dan Uggla, whom the Giants signed and added to their roster in late-July. It looked as if the Giants again would be searching for a 2nd baseman down the stretch as they competed for a playoff spot.
Panik would turn it around at the plate in the late months of the season, however, hitting .379 in August and .301 in September. The Giants took one of the two NL Wild Card spots, and would face the other wild card winner, the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game playoff.
Making the postseason roster as a rookie, Panik went 3 for 5 at the plate in his first playoff game experience. He would go on to drive in eight runs over the next three series, including the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, as the Giants won their 8th World Series title. Most importantly during the postseason, Panik did not commit an error in the field over 160 innings, and had a pivotal diving stop to rob the Royals’ Eric Hosmer of a hit and start a double play in the deciding Game 7.
Despite a quick start to his career and a 6th place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, Panik has taken nothing for granted in his sophomore season. He leads the team in hits, with 96, and is currently hitting .306 with six home runs and 30 RBIs. While those aren’t flashy power numbers, they are surely quite a big improvement for last season, when he hit just 1 home run in 73 games.
Panik has been fairly consistent throughout the entire season, batting .280 in April, .314 in May and .333 in June. He has parlayed three impressive months into an All-Star selection by his manager, Bruce Bochy, and is set to showcase his talent on national TV on Tuesday in Cincinnati at the Mid-Summer Classic.
With the way he approaches hitting, Panik plays the game more like a ten-year veteran rather than a 24-year-old player in his second MLB season. And though he may not have gotten the nod as a starter in the All-Star game, he is becoming one of the best 2nd baseman in the league. Together with shortstop Brandon Crawford, the Giants have one of the best, if not the best middle infield combination in baseball. Still, as Panik told SI.com, he tries to remain level-headed no matter the success or challenge that comes his way.
“I try not to get too high or too low in this game,” Panik said, “because some days you’re going to be humbled, and there are days you’re going to feel like you’re on top of the world.”
In the interview with SI.com, he also talked about learning more about the game as you get more experience.
“As you get older,” Panik said, “you understand your swing better, you understand pitchers better, you understand the game better. You’re always learning.”
Panik has limited experience against the three Phillies pitchers slated to face the Giants this weekend. He is a combined 2 for 6 against the Friday and Saturday starters, Cole Hamels and David Buchanan, with a hit off each of them. He has yet to face Chad Billingsley, however, who pitches the Sunday matinee game.
Though overall Panik is performing at an All-Star level, he has been in a bit of a funk over the past seven games. In that span, he is 7 for 29 (241) with a .267 OBP. However, overall in his last 30 games, Panik is hitting .303 with 37 hits, including two home runs, eight RBIs and 10 walks. He should be able to do some damage against Phillies pitching during this three-game set.
An up-and-coming star, Panik has real potential to be one of the best players in baseball, and Giants fans have no reason to panic with Panik manning second base. Most importantly, Panik will finally provide the team stability to a position that has been a carousel for inconsistent players in recent years.