A first-round pick of the Giants back in 2011, Panik quietly hit his way up through the minors, landing a spot on the MLB roster halfway through the 2014 season. Once viewed as a shortstop, he’s settled in as a second baseman for San Francisco, and with Brandon Crawford firmly entrenched at short, Panik figures to stay at the keystone for the foreseeable future.
Panik’s rough 2013 campaign in Double-A tempered what was already pretty lukewarm enthusiasm about his future, but he answered his critics in a big way in 2014, both in Triple-A and in the majors. Once viewed as a surefire utility infielder, Panik now seems like he may at least be a second-division starter, and the Giants probably think there’s even more here.
As a former first-round pick and the starting second baseman for a World Series-bound team, Panik is going to get some attention this offseason. Should you be interested in him for fantasy purposes? Do you enjoy rhetorical questions masquerading as acceptable transitions? Let’s take a look.
What Went Right in 2014?
Batting average, basically. Panik hit .305/.343/.368 in 287 MLB PA after hitting .321/.382/.447 in 326 Triple-A PA. He rode a .343 BABIP in the majors, yes, but at the end of the day, Panik recorded 82 hits in 73 games in San Francisco, hitting his way to the no. 2 spot in the lineup.
That may look pretty unimpressive, but the average MLB second baseman hit .250/.307/.364, and the average batting line in general was just .255/.318/.393. Among second basemen who received at least 250 PA, Panik’s average was third-highest, behind only Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano. For a second baseman, he brought an elite hit tool to the table, .343 BABIP be damned.
Small-sample-size alert here, but Panik hit lefties really well during his MLB stint, which is promising. He hit them well in the minors, too, so it looks like no platoon partner will be needed. There’s also a really good chance he starts the season as San Francisco’s second baseman in 2015 now, which seemed somewhat hard to imagine a year ago at this time.
Also, he hit a homer last night.
What Went Wrong in 2014?
Those other pesky four standard offensive roto categories. Panik hit one homer and stole zero bases in the majors, scoring only 31 runs and driving in just 18 RBI. Those numbers are pretty uninspiring, even in a half-season of work.
Panik also only walked in 5.6 percent of his PA, after generally walking at a 9-10 percent clip in the minors. That’s hardly a death knell for a player getting his first taste of the major leagues, but it means that Panik is certainly miscast in the no. 2 hole, and he’s probably not going to reach base often enough to rack up big run totals.
We also heard a lot of “Panik! at the Frisco” jokes, which aren’t good for anyone.
What to Expect in 2015
On the one hand, Panik is pretty likely to accumulate a good amount of playing time. He’s hit well enough this season to reasonably be considered the Giants’ best starting option at second base moving forward, and he can infuse some youth into the Giants lineup, given that he’ll be just 24 next season.
But should you expect him to hit .300-plus again over a full season? I think not. Panik was a career .296/.365/.403 hitter in nearly 2,000 plate appearances, and it’s hard to imagine him performing better than that in the majors. Even if we accept that he’s got a good hit tool and his BABIP may be a bit higher than average, there’s no reason to think a mark in the .340s is sustainable.
Plus, as discussed above, there’s not much hope for him contributing when it comes to counting stats. You can’t expect him to reach double-digit homers or steals, even with a full season of playing time. And unless he improves his walk rate or lucks out with BABIP again, it’s tough to see him surpassing 80 runs scored.
There’s a chance Panik threatens for a .300 average again and does just enough elsewhere to make him a solid MI option in 16-team leagues—think Scooter Gennett. It’s more likely, however, that we see his average fall to the .280ish range, and if he finished outside the top 20 fantasy second basemen next season, it wouldn’t shock me.
I’m taking guys like D.J. LeMahieu, Omar Infante, and Gennett before I touch Panik next season, though I admit they’re all in the same tier.
The Great Beyond
Given that Panik has never hit more than eight homers in a season at any professional level, there’s not much reason to think his power will tick up, even as he enters the years we typically associate with an offensive player’s prime. Could he reach double-digits some day? Sure, maybe. But “maybe 10 homers once or twice in his career” is probably the ceiling here.
If you look at speed, it’s not much better. Panik stole 14 bases in 2012 and 10 bases in 2013, but he went just three-for-five in steals in Triple-A in 2014. He didn’t attempt a steal in 73 MLB games, and running isn’t a big part of his game.
The most likely area for improvement here is walk rate. If Panik can return to his more patient ways, he has the chance to post some solid OBPs during seasons in which BABIP lets his average shine. But that’s not really something you want to bank on for fantasy purposes, and it’s awfully hard to predict.
Overall, Panik looks poised to become the next poster boy for empty averages, and while it wouldn’t shock me to see him hit his way to a few top-15 fantasy second baseman performances in his career, he’s not a future stud. You’ll often hear him compared to the Giants’ last second baseman, Marco Scutaro, and from a fantasy point-of-view, that’s actually pretty on point.
For a major leaguer, a career resembling Scutaro’s would be terrific. For fantasy owners, not so much.
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