With the 30th overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, the Minnesota Twins selected Levi Michael, shortstop from the University of North Carolina. One pick prior, 29th overall, the Giants selected Joe Panik, also a shortstop, from St. John’s University in New York. Michael was considered the top college SS in the draft by most outlets and considered likely to stick at the position as he developed. Opinion on Panik’s ability to stick was more iffy, with some suggesting a move to 2B would be necessary as he advanced through the minors. Panik bats left and Michael is a switch hitter.
I haven’t seen any real reasons given by the Giants front office about why they took Panik over Michael. There weren’t many–if any–cries of “bad pick” like last year with Gary Brown, though he wasn’t considered a 1st round lock (comp/2nd round.) Panik had a much better college season, putting up a slash line of .398/.509/.642 versus Michael’s .289/.384/.461. Michael had down year, but was still considered to have the better tools. The ACC is a better baseball conference than the Big East, but there’s not a big enough difference to explain the gap. Both exhibited above average SB skills and surface-level defensive stats give Michael the edge (FPCT: .969 vs .953.)
It’s entirely possible that “what have you done lately?” played into their eventual decision. Money doesn’t seem to have played a role, although Panik signed quickly and got his career going in the Northwest League with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Michael got a higher bonus at $1.175m (Panik $1.116m) although he did not sign until deadline day and was not assigned to a minor league roster by the Twins.
I’m not a scout, but I did get to see Panik play a series of four games vs the Boise Hawks in early August. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much the first three games as he didn’t do much. He went 2-13 with no extra base hits, 2 strikeouts and a walk. The last night he broke out with a 3-4 night including a double. He rarely made a bad swing and hit the ball solidly almost every at bat, often “right at” people. The “eye test” for four games means squat, but he didn’t show any flashy plays in the brief sample. He did bobble a few balls when making the transition from glove to throw.
There are three games to go in the Northwest League season, but Panik was just named MVP of the league, which is a good way to begin your career (even if you don’t care about awards.) His NWL slash line is .337/.399/.464 versus a league average .256/.334/.372. His wOBA comes out at a very good .400, with a wRC+ of 141. He had a reasonably high .345 BABIP and with a good K-rate of 8.4% he will need to hit more line drives if he wants to sustain an above .300 batting average. His walk rate stands at 9.5% which will hopefully rise above 10% as he develops. He contributed to the best offense in the league, but due to the worst pitching in the league their playoff chances are slim (three out in the second-half with three to go.) He’s 13/18 in SB attempts and has a .963 fielding percentage with 12 errors in 68 games at SS. Considering some of the error totals players put up in the lower levels, he’s solid on the surface. The Northwest League is college heavy so he’s playing in the league you would expect, as well.
You rarely draft a surefire 2B in the first round with some exceptions (Ackley recently.) The Giants goal for him has to be to stay at SS if he can improve his defense and handle the position at the higher levels. With guys like Adrianza and Crawford who are locks defensively above him in the minors, he will need to keep up his bat to stay at the position. He’s already a better hitter than Adrianza and the ceilings for their bats don’t even compare. We will certainly want him to hit better than Crawford has shown in the majors and minors. The Giants have had…. “troubles” at the middle infield positions since Aurilia’s 2001 and Jeff Kent left after the 2002 World Series run. We’ve been satisfied with Freddie Sanchez’s production when he’s healthy, so the bar isn’t exactly set high if he’s forced to move to 2B.
We should start getting updates about Panik’s projections soon as the minor league seasons end and Baseball America and other outlets start releasing tools and prospects list. There are no guarantees with Panik. There are questions about both his defense and his bat. It seems unlikely he’ll make any top 100 prospect lists, but he should slot into the Giants list anywhere between #2 and #4 depending on how an individual feels about his future tools. Gary Brown is undoubtedly #1 and Panik will be in the discussion for #2 with Surkamp and Peguero. My own personal ranking of the four would go: Brown, Surkamp, Panik, Peguero.
Next year he is likely to be assigned to the San Jose Giants. Hopefully he will put up Gary Brown like numbers to cement his status as one of our top prospects. Making the jump into mid-season top 100 lists would also be pleasing to us as fans. Like most organizations, the Giants probably don’t care about his placement; they just want him to continue developing. The California League environment should allow him to put up solid offensive stats, which if nothing else, should allow him to build confidence and give the majority of fans reasons to dream.
Would we love him to turn into Dustin Pedroia? Jeff Kent? Sure. Is it likely? Of course not. He has a reasonable ceiling of being a high contact hitter with solid on-base skills. Once he’s on base he should be able to use his above average speed to steal bases at a solid rate–depending on the Giants’ manager’s preferences by the time he hits the majors. If he improves his ability to hit line drives it’ll allow him to put up a good number of doubles and possibly triples due to his speed and left-handed bat in AT&T Park. He probably won’t ever be much of a power hitter, his numbers will deflated even more due to the park. That projection is probably somewhere between the 75th and 90th percentile. The short-season at Salem-Keizer has undoubtedly made me think higher of his future than in June. But hey, I’m a Giants fan and admittedly not a scout. At the lower end, he could turn into a solid utility infielder, although that depends on his ability to play SS. A backup infielder who can only play 2B (unlikely to play 3B much due to his arm) isn’t very useful, not that it always stops the Giants as we’ve seen this year. People far better at judging tools than I will certainly be writing about him so we should get a better perspective of his future from scouts soon. For now, his future appears bright. Cheesy jokes about his last name aside, a middle infielder who can hit for even league average is a good player to have. With the futures of C and CF hopefully in good hands, 2B/SS will complete the always-important middle of the diamond. Hopefully Joseph Panik will fill one of those positions in a few years.
(Panik can be heard on the Two Guys, a Glove and a Coke Bottle Podcast here.)