Joe Panik made his first start at shortstop since before his big league career began, and it looks like he could help the Blue Jays as a utility man this year.
I was a little bit surprised when the Blue Jays signed Joe Panik to a minor league deal earlier this off-season, only because I wasn’t really sure how he would fit on the depth chart. Fortunately, the Blue Jays were more familiar with his history than I was.
The reason I didn’t see a fit was because I was only familiar with Panik as a second baseman, the position he played for the San Francisco Giants, even earning a Gold Glove in 2016. And I distinctly remember going to look at his defensive history as a big leaguer, and there I saw that he had played only one of his 645 MLB games away from the position. And with Cavan Biggio, Brandon Drury, and Travis Shaw, I wasn’t sure how Panik would work without a little more defensive versatility.
What the Blue Jays really needed was a back-up infielder capable of playing shortstop, which is something I wrote about a few times around the time that Panik was brought in. What I didn’t realize was that the 29-year-old came up as a shortstop during his minor league days, and the Blue Jays believe he could be capable of handling the position well enough to give Bo Bichette a day off his legs whenever he needs it.
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With the presence of Ruben Tejada and Santiago Espinal as well, who will likely both start the year in Triple-A Buffalo, the idea of using Panik in a back-up role is pretty intriguing. He’s not exactly over the hill at 29 years old, and he’s not that far removed from his 2017 season when he put up a .347 OBP while with the Giants. Add in an All-Star appearance, the aforementioned Gold Glove, and a World Series ring from his rookie season in 2014, and he has a lot of experience to offer his young teammates in Toronto.
It was encouraging to see him have a good game on Wednesday, even if it was a very small sample, and that it’s quite difficult to find much information on how things turned out yesterday. The Blue Jays squared off against the Detroit Tigers, but unfortunately the game was called in the fourth inning because of poor weather, so it registers as “cancelled”. However, Panik looked capable in his short cameo at the position on Wednesday, and will likely see a fair bit of time there throughout the spring. It’s also something he’s excited about, from Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling.
"“It’s just a matter of getting game action over there again. That’s all it is. I know I can catch, I know I can throw. It’s just a matter of getting the reads off the bat.”"
What I also found interesting in Zwelling’s article was that it might have been the opportunity to bounce around the diamond that led Panik to choosing the Blue Jays as a free agent. It could also be a way that the veteran sees as a path to rebuilding some of the lost value he once had, where he had to settle for a MiLB contract this time around.
"“That was appealing to me, (the Blue Jays asking if he would be interested in being more of a utility man*) because I know I can play short and I don’t want to be pegged as only a second baseman anymore. It’ll be nice to show I can play other positions.”"
What I didn’t know when the signing was first announced certainly would have helped it make more sense at the time. Then again, it doesn’t really matter if I know everything about these players as long as the front office is on top of it. In the case of Panik, there’s some legitimate potential that he could provide some solid value, especially if he can prove himself to be a capable defender around the infield. It might mean that Brandon Drury could start the year in Triple-A, or even end up being designated for assignment, but if the Blue Jays can raise the bar, then so be it.
It’ll be an interesting thing to keep an eye on as the Blue Jays go through the Grapefruit League schedule, but as long as Panik can look like a capable shortstop, there’s a very good chance the job is his to lose.