Friday, February 17, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 2, Joe Panik, SS/2B

No. 2: Joe Panik, Shortstop/Second Baseman

Age: 21 years old
Drafted: First round (29th overall) in the 2011 Draft
College: St. John's (NY)
2011 Regular Season numbers: .341 average, .401 OBP, .467 slugging, .868 OPS, .403 wOBA, 144 wRC+, 49 runs scored, 6 home runs, 13 stolen bases (Short Season)
2011 Fall/Winter League numbers: .323 average, .394 OBP, .473 slugging, .867 OPS, .389 wOBA, 114 wRC+, 6 runs scored, 2 home runs, 0 stolen bases (AFL)

Why you should know about Panik:

The much maligned pick in the 29th slot, Panik has come a long way to prove his doubters wrong in such a short period of time. Many experts expected Panik to go somewhere late in the supplemental round or even the second, but the Giants swooped him up late in the first round and after signing early, he came on with a vengeance in Salem Keizer, proving to be one of the Northwest League's better hitters. Panik doesn't wow scouts with his athleticism or tools, but his stat lines and disciplined plate approach in college and as a professional have started to make some doubters into believers.

What Are Panik's Strengths as a Prospect?

Without a doubt, Panik has a very sound approach at the plate. It was his calling card as a prospect in college at St. John's, and he has seamlessly transitioned that excellent plate discipline to the professional level, as evidenced by his stints in the Northwest League and Arizona Fall League. At St. John's, Panik posted BB/K ratios of 1.81, 2.24 and 1.83 his last three years with the Red Storm, and in 304 plate appearances with the Volcanoes, he sported a ratio of 1.12. However, it's not just his ability to take walks that has experts and scouts turning their heads, but he has showed an impeccable ability to make contact as a hitter. He averaged a 91 percent contact rate in college, and his contact rate was also 91 percent in his stint in the NWL last season. Hence, it comes as no surprise that Panik is going to be a threat to be a high-average hitter, and that was the case last year as he posted batting averages of .398 and .341 at St. John's and Salem Keizer, respectively. (And if that wasn't enough, Panik earned the Northwest League batting title with his .341 average; not bad for a guy who was playing college ball the same year.)

In addition, while the batting average numbers are nice, Panik has showed some glimpses of power for a middle infielder. At St. John's, he belted 20 homers combined in his last two years, as well as slugging percentages of .621 and .642 his last two years as an amateur. While the power dipped when he made the transition to wooden bats (as expected for most, if not all, college prospects), it still remained solid for a middle infielder, as he posted a slugging of .467 in the NWL and .473 with the Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. While Panik isn't going to post Tulowitzki or even Utley-like numbers, he certainly could be a threat for 10-15 home runs on an annual basis.

Defensively, while he doesn't sport a ton of athleticism, scouting reports have remarked that he is still an above average defender that can hold his own in the field. Rob Gordon of the 2012 Minor League Baseball Analyst rated his glove a 3 plus out of 5 and that he gets the most out of his abilities. In the NWL, he also flashed a 4.59 RF/G and .964 fielding percentage, not bad considering it was his first year as a professional.

Where Might Panik Struggle?

The disparity in Panik's rankings is a classic case of the "scouts vs. stats" argument when evaluating prospects. On paper, Panik looks like a stud. He gets on base, he hits for high average, he has good power for a middle infielder, and he shows a patient approach along with a strong ability to make contact at the plate. When you look at his numbers, not only does he look like an everyday player, but he also has the potential to be an All-Star middle infielder.

However, the scouts aren't as kind. Keith Law was adamant against the pick on draft day, and even though he warmed up a little to him after his Northwest League campaign, Law still doesn't feel he is a very high caliber prospect (he believes that Panik is a utility player at best). To be honest, from a scouting standpoint, one can understand where Law, and a lot of other baseball experts come from. If you ever watch him on tape, nothing about Panik stands out. His swing is good, but it's not the kind of smooth motion one would expect from a .300-plus hitter. Furthermore, he doesn't look all that athletic, and defensively, nothing he does is very impressive. He doesn't have a cannon, his glove isn't especially quick, you feel like his footwork could be better, etc. If you look at him on video, you would think he was a fourth or fifth round prospect, not a former first rounder.

And that is what makes Panik's upcoming year so intriguing. He's dominated in college and in the Northwest League and in the Arizona Fall League despite having average to slightly above average tools at best. Hence, one has to wonder if the numbers will start to regress wants he faces more talented pitching and better competition. Scouts would say he will regress, while the stat "guys" would say his approach will lead to sustainable success. At this point though, we as Giants fans wouldn't probably know until he hits the field wherever he should be on Opening Day (should it be Augusta or San Jose, but most likely San Jose).

Grades on Panik's Tools

Hitting for Average/Contact ability: 19/20 (He hit for high average in college and high average in the NWL and the AFL. In the hitter friendly Cal League, he should be able to sustain that success. However, watching his swing in person prevents me from giving him a perfect score. That being said, the numbers don't lie, and Panik should be a perennial threat for .300 over his minor league career.)
Plate Approach: 19/20 (Probably the best aspect of Panik's game. The league average BB/K ratio is usually 0.50. Panik posted over double that ratio in his first stint of professional ball. While I think his gaudy BB/K ratios won't carry as he moves up the system, he should be a guy who's consistently getting on base and setting himself up to score runs.)
Power: 14/20 (While he has posted some gaudy slugging percentages for a middle infielder in college and in the NWL and AFL, Panik's power potential doesn't seem very high. He has a nice swing that will provide some surprising pop, but he probably has a ceiling of about 10-15 home runs, and even that is being generous. He definitely has some gap to gap power, but it'll be interesting to see how his power progresses as he moves up to High-A and Double-A ball. It is probably more realistic to think that his slugging will hover in the .420-.440 range as he progresses in the Giants system.)
Speed: 16/20 (Panik is not a burner on the basepaths or in the field. He is opportunistic while on the bases, as evidenced by his 13 stolen bases with the Volcanoes. That being said, he was far from perfect, as he was caught five times. Panik could be an occasional threat on the basepaths, especially considering how often he gets on base. Still though, his speed is probably average at best.
Defense: 17/20 (Judging from scouting reports and what I have seen on tape, it's obvious that Panik's days at shortstop are limited. With Crawford at the Major League level, and Adrianza and Carter Jurica much more highly heralded defensive prospects, Panik probably would be better suited for the keystone position. As a second baseman though, his defense would most likely hold up well and his lack of arm strength wouldn't be as exposed as it would at shortstop (which is why I grade him a 17; if he stays at SS, it's probably a 16 or even as low as 15). Furthermore, with Nick Noonan flaming out, Charlie Culberson's future questionable, and Brock Bond most likely a Four-A player, second base would be a prime opportunity for Panik to move quickly in the Giants system.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 19/20 (Panik showed a lot by signing quickly after draft day. displaying he is interested in playing baseball rather than negotiating a higher paycheck. After all the negative attention about being "overdrafted," he took care of business and probably had the best season out of anyone drafted in the 2011 draft. So far, Panik hasn't had any injury issues of note and he had the reputation of being a gamer both with the Volcanoes and at St. John's, which definitely sits well in his favor.

Overall grade: B+
Projection: Starting Major League Second Baseman; has the potential to be a solid, though not spectacular contributor.

Summary: Panik has everything I would want from a middle infielder prospect: an excellent plate approach, a little bit of pop, decent defense, and passable speed. Is he spectacular? No. Will his tools wow you? Heck no. Is he going to be a perennial All-Star? Most likely not. However, keep this in mind: Kolten Wong was rated as one of the best middle infielders in the draft last year, and Panik pretty much went toe to toe last year with Wong on a statistical basis. However, Kolten Wong signed for $1.5 million. Panik? He went for $1.1 million. So, the Giants saved $400 K and pretty much got the same player on paper. Panik is going to be the kind of "value" player in my mind, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him continue to give the Giants value on investment as he progresses in the Giants system.

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