Joe Panik hit a home run yesterday. Big deal, it’s just Spring Training. But it was his second of the Spring, which looks weird compared to what we’ve come to expect from the Giants’ everyday second baseman.
The ball can sometimes carry a bit more than average in those Arizona ballparks, and that’s just about always the case compared with AT&T. But even if these games were played at Coors Field, two home runs in 34 plate appearances is a serious break from the norm.
Since getting promoted to Single-A Scottsdale, Panik was on a one-homer-every-96-plate-appearances pace throughout his minor league career. That pace would’ve given Panik three major league home runs in his rookie season. Alas …
Panik was closer to his minor league pace in the postseason, hitting one home run (in Game 5 of the NLCS) in 78 plate appearances.
Even though he was drafted in the first round and was considered an instrumental player throughout the Giants’ latest championship run, Panik is widely thought of as a consistent player with a low ceiling due to his history as a contact hitter who rarely hits doubles, let alone homers. Grant Brisbee likes to bring up Bill Mueller as a dream comp, and the Giants would be ecstatic if Panik’s path mirrored Mueller’s.
But does Panik want to be more than Mueller 2.0? He seems like a very nice young man, but it’s not just the jerks who want to get paid. If Panik can go from strong defensive second baseman who’ll hit over .300 with some good luck (his batting average on balls in play was a relatively fortunate .343) to a strong defensive second baseman who can get you 10-14 homers, that’s a bump that represents millions of dollars.
Even if we don’t assume monetary greed, Panik also seems like a smart young man, one capable of looking around the clubhouse, seeing Hunter Pence in a cast and thinking, “Where are the dingers going to come from this year?”
Perhaps Panik spent a lot of his offseason in the weight room. Perhaps he’s swinging harder than ever when the games don’t count, testing himself to see if he can become that kind of hitter. Perhaps his power “outburst” is just a silly Spring occurrence that means absolutely nothing (and yes, this is probably the likeliest option).
Panik is only hitting .125 with a walk so far this March, but without an opportunity to see how he’s swinging (the new baby means no Spring Training visit for me this year), I have no idea. “He’s a home-run hitter,” Bruce Bochy joked yesterday. “He’ll hit about .150 with 30 bombs.”
That quote (courtesy of Alex Pavlovic) was just an example of Bochy being playful after a rare Spring Training win, but he’d probably rather see Panik as a table-setter than a middle-of-the-order masher. That’s probably what’ll happen when the games count, but we’ll see if Panik — like Gregor Blanco is prone to do at times — gets a little too excited about trying to park one into — or even over — the right field arcade.