Since being acquired on July 27th, 2012, Marco Scutaro has been a stable force at 2nd base for the San Francisco Giants.
After hitting .362 in the 2012 regular season after the trade that sent him over from Colorado, Scutaro went on to hit .500 in the NLCS with a staggering 1.140 OPS in leading the Giants to a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Scutaro was named NLCS MVP and gave Giants fans some of the most memorable moments in franchise history en route to a 2nd World Series title in three years.
In 2013, Scutaro has remained consistent – mallet finger and all – hitting .314 with only 24K’s and 34BB. This guy puts the ball in play, doesn’t strike out, and is a constant headache for opposing pitchers. It’s safe to say Giants fans love Scutaro, and rightfully so – the guy is the ideal 2 hitter.
The 37-year-old Scutaro signed a 3 year deal with San Francisco in the offseason for $20 million. While he can still hit, his age has shown at times in the field and he needs breaks due to a sore back and other lingering injuries, which is to be expected for someone Scutaro’s age. While still effective, it is a good time to look to the future – for 2014 and beyond – and see what is in store after Scutaro rides off into the sunset.
“… won’t wow you with tools, but he’s the type that just goes out and gets the job done. The one thing he’s shown he can do is hit. He makes a ton of contact, rarely strikes out, draws walks and looks like he should be able to continue hitting for a high average. He’s the perfect No. 2 type hitter, one who can move runners, hit-and-run and hit when behind in the count.”
Panik was the 1st round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the 2011 draft out of St. John’s University. In his first professional season in 2011 with the short season Single A Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Panik led the Northwest League in average at .341, runs with 49, hits 82, RBI 54 and on-base percentage at .401.
From there the accolades piled up: Northwest League MVP, Baseball America Short-Season All Star, Topps Short Season/Rookie All Star and so on. Panik participated in the Arizona Fall League on a team with high-profile names such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and the Giants own Brandon Crawford and was named an AFL Rising Star and to the AFL All-Prospect team. Pretty impressive company.
In 2012 Panik spent the season with single A San Jose, hitting .297 with 7 HR’s and 76 RBI (named an Milb.com Organizational All Star), and so far in 2013 with AA Richmond has hit .258 with 3 HR’s and 48 RBI. His average has fluctuated a bit this year (.320 in April) as he has gotten use to AA pitching, but has been back on the rise as of late. Still, Panik was named to the Eastern League All Star team.
One thing that has remained consistent is the walks and strikeouts. In 2011 Panik struck out just 25 times compared with 28 walks, 54/58 in 2012, and 46/47 so far in 2013. At every level he has walked more than he has struck out, the ultimate sign of a good contact hitter and future #2 hole fixture, and well, very Scutaro-esque. Panik can flat out hit. But what about fielding?
After starting out as a SS, Panik made the transition to 2nd base in 2011 in the Arizona Fall League with current Giants SS Brandon Crawford his double play partner.
In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Panik’s defensive capabilities are discussed: “The way he plays second, the way he moves, the way he turns the double play, and the plays he’s made this year, for me, he’s the best second baseman in (the Eastern League),” Richmond manager Dave Machemer said of Panik. “His hands are second to none, and he can turn a double play with anybody. He gets rid of the ball. He’s made turns this year that there was no way I thought we were turning it.”
Brandon Crawford is an impressive – Gold Glove caliber – short stop. If what the AA Richmond manager says about Panik’s ability with the glove can transition to the Major Leagues, that could be quite a combination up-the-middle in San Francisco for quite some time. And, it’s a bonus that they have already played with each other – which should help to make that transition easier.
Panik receives rave reviews at every level he reaches, both for his demeanor on and off the field. When he was struggling in some earlier months this season, Panik kept his head up and went to work to get better, and had this to say about his performance, “You’re used to hitting for a high average, and then you drop a little bit. You get a little frustrated. But you keep moving forward. The next day is a day for success. That’s been my outlook.”
Watching Marco Scutaro every day is a treat, for any baseball fan. He gets the job done and has rare plate and bat discipline that is exciting to watch, and is the consummate professional. You wish he could stick around forever and continue to play at his peak performance level, but the cruel fact of baseball life is that age eventually catches up with everyone. As Scutaro’s contract wears on, a replacement or even platoon may become a reality. You know how Bruce Bochy loves his platoons, and the 22-year-old Panik is a left-handed hitter.
If Joe Panik continues to progress the way he has, Giants fans could be seeing him as soon as some point in 2014. And if he is anything like Scutaro when he gets to San Francisco, it’s going to be a great deal of fun to watch. In the mean time, we still get to enjoy Marco.