Why Joe Panik Was the Missing Piece All Along

Entering the 2014 season, the San Francisco Giants lacked an everyday, reliable second baseman. Brandon Hicks had some success at the beginning of the season, but then he fell into and couldn’t break out of a serious offensive slump. Ehire Adrianza battled injuries, and he still hasn’t proved that he can hit at the major league level.

The Dan Uggla experiment should never have happened, and it failed miserably. Marco Scutaro came back for five games, but then went straight back to the DL.

The Giants also failed to pick up a second baseman at the trade deadline, despite being linked in a few trade rumors to Ben Zobrist, Martin Prado, Aaron Hill, and others.

The Giants were left with very few options. They had to look to their farm system for some assistance. Enter Joe Panik.

At first, Panik struggled a bit to adjust to major league pitching. However, after getting more at-bats and becoming more confident, he has proven that he can more than handle the everyday duties at second base.

In the month of August, Panik hit .379 in 95 at-bats with one home run and 10 RBI. He also had a .416 OBP and a .900 OPS. His hot streak in August has led to him hitting .314 for the season.

Right now, he looks much more comfortable at the plate. He’s using all parts of the field, he has a simple approach, and he’s patient at the plate.

He’s a solid defender as well. He turns double plays well, he has good instincts, and he plays hard. He is certainly a better defensive option at second base than Scutaro, Adrianza, and Uggla were.

Not only has Panik proven to be the Giants steady, everyday second baseman that they severely lacked, but he’s also filled another hole for them. Given his offensive approach, he’s fit in perfectly as the number two hitter in the Giants’ lineup too.

Bruce Bochy had Hunter Pence hitting in the second spot for a while, which didn’t really make sense from the beginning. After Panik started to get hot and then stayed hot, Bochy finally decided to move Pence down to the fifth spot and move Panik up to the second spot.

This move made too much sense, since it allowed the Giants to take advantage of Pence’s speed and power further down in the lineup, and because Panik brings a similar approach to what Scutaro had and succeeded with in the second spot.

Bochy spoke with John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle about this:

“I think Joe can be that type of hitter,” Bochy said. “Marco’s a contact guy, line-drive hitter, base-hit guy. I think Panik is the same type of hitter, from the other (left-handed) side, obviously. Both can handle the bat and are disciplined at the plate. It allows you to do more things.”

“Panik, he’s a guy you’ll probably do more things with, including bunt, hit-and-run, things like that,” Bochy said. “It gives us a little more dimension.”

As the number two hitter in the lineup this season, Panik has hit .328 in 61 at-bats. Panik has exactly the approach that any manager would want from their number two hitter.

Panik also feels comfortable hitting in the second spot. He sees better pitches than he would in the seventh or eighth spot, where he was hitting before, partially due to the spot in the lineup but also because Buster Posey generally hits in the third spot right after him.

Panik’s teammates truly believe in him and what he brings to this team. After the Giants’ monstrous 13-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers this past weekend, Alex Pavlovic of the Bay Area News Group shared quotes from Gregor Blanco and Panik himself on what Panik means to this Giant team right now:

Joe Panik had four hits, which you would think would be a career high for a rookie, except he had four hits a week ago, too. “He was the guy we were missing,” Blanco said proudly. Panik’s presence as a top-notch No. 2 hitter (at the moment) allows Bochy to move a big, speedy bat down to the five-spot. And it’s an easy switch, because neither Panik nor Hunter Pence care about where they hit. That said, Panik is enjoying his new role. He has always been a No. 2 hitter, at just about every level. “I’ve always believed in myself,” he said. “I put in the work. I know we’ve got a month left, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.

Blanco is right. Panik is exactly the type of player the Giants were missing. Panik can play every day at second base, and he can fill the need at the number two spot in the lineup. He’s patient at the plate, he’s reliable on defense, and he’s eager to learn. Along with fellow rookie, Andrew Susac, Panik also brings some youthful energy to this lineup. Both of these rookies are stepping up in the most important time of the season, and they’re giving the Giants a big boost.

Aug 29, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik (12) fields a ground ball by Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Scooter Gannett (not pictured) in the eighth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports.

Panik has not only filled a dire need for the Giants and given them much more stability at second base, but he’s also proven why he’s the second baseman of the future for the Giants.

Given his recent success, Panik’s emergence could persuade Bochy and Brian Sabean to not search for a second baseman in the offseason and instead spend more time and money on negotiating a contract extension for Pablo Sandoval. That’s looking far ahead, but Panik’s current success could influence some significant decisions that the Giants will have to make this offseason.

The Giants are known for finding success with a creative, yet impressive mix of acquired talent and homegrown talent. The outfield (Pence, Angel Pagan, Mike Morse, and fourth outfielder, Blanco) represents the acquired talent, and the infield (Brandon Belt, Panik, Brandon Crawford, and Sandoval), along with the catchers (Posey and Susac) and the majority of the starting rotation, represent the homegrown talent.

Panik has boosted the outlook on the Giants’ farm system with his stellar play, but he’s also boosted the Giants’ confidence in the future. Panik is here to stay, and he could prove to be a key part of the Giants’ current postseason run.