SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Joe Panik is young but full of confidence at spring training.
It helps that the 24-year-old is the projected starting second baseman for the defending champion San Francisco Giants after a stellar half-season in 2014 that saw him hit .305 in 73 games and log five extra-base hits and eight RBIs in 17 postseason games.
“To call yourself one of 30 everyday second basemen isn’t something I take for granted. There’s always somebody working out there,” Panik said. “But yeah, it does give me confidence coming into spring training and knowing that I have a role right now.”
Panik might be the most high-impact player among the Giants’ 2014 rookies, but he wasn’t the only young player to step up and play a big part in the team’s run to the World Series.
Catcher Andrew Susac took over for Hector Sanchez, who suffered a concussion, as the backup catcher — a key spot because the Giants used No. 1 catcher Buster Posey at first base in 30 games last season. Susac is expected to maintain that spot following his 2014 performance.
The 25-year-old batted .273 with eight doubles, three home runs and 19 RBIs in 35 games after being called up from Triple-A Fresno about a month after Panik last season.
“Going from playing every day to kind of being that part-time contributor, it’s kind of tough to do. But the thing that helped me excel was I just accepted my role,” Susac said. “It’s a very successful feeling and it felt really good knowing that I was helping the team win.”
Susac acknowledged that the injury led to his opportunity but said he feels that staying in the majors is the hard part. He’ll look to be more vocal and will build on his relationships with the pitching staff.
“I didn’t sign up for this sport to just have my road paved for me,” Susac said. “It’s a competitive sport and I look forward to the competition. You’re looking to make a statement and turn some heads and show that it wasn’t just a fluke or lightning in a bottle.”
Panik got his shot because the Giants weren’t getting much offensive production from second base, with Ehire Adrianza, Brandon Hicks and Joaquin Arias combining to hit .179 from May to June 21.
Panik hit .345 from Aug. 4 to the end of the season.
“It was kind of special, your rookie year,” Panik said. “You just kind of do what you have to do, but at the same time, you have high expectations of yourself and you want that kind of year. Now you’re looking forward to this season.”
Manager Bruce Bochy hopes the pair’s rookie campaigns translate into improvement in their second year
“If anything they have that experience to draw on, and that’s invaluable. To go through a pennant race, to go through the playoffs, these guys realize hopefully that this is where they belong and they can play here (in the big leagues),” Bochy said. “This group did step up and they did a terrific job and I think they’re going to be better players this year because of it.”