The last time we heard about Marco Scutaro, Brian Sabean used the word “confounding” twice to discuss the second baseman’s recovery from a lower back injury (h/t Bay Area Sports Guy). With the very real possibility that Scoots is done for the season and *gasp* his career, let’s examine what the past, present and future hold for the Giants at second base.
With Scutaro starting the season on the Disabled List, the Giants were left with a rotation of three players. The guy we knew well — Joaquin Arias. The guy we knew a little — Ehire Adrianza. And the guy we didn’t know at all — Brandon Hicks. These three known-unknowns were attempting to plug the hole left by the resident middle infielder who had averaged a touch over 3 Wins Above Replacement over the last six seasons.
With those numbers in mind, the Giants inked Scutaro to a three-year, $20 million contact following the 2012 season. While the veteran was definitely worth his salt in 2013, the final two years of this deal may have been gobbled up by demons that consume the vertebrae of athletic men in their late 30s. Giants fans should prepare for a universe in which Scutaro isn’t the player who defies the sharp aging curve for guys at his position.
With 34 games in the books, the Giants are through a little over 20 percent of the current season. Scutaro’s replacements have combined for 0.3 fWAR in the early going, but that number needs to be broken down. With a healthy Scutaro, it is likely Adrianza that fails to make the Opening Day roster, even with his lack of options. Brandon Hicks had a marvelous Spring Training campaign and his power numbers have carried over to the regular season. The young journeyman has accrued 0.8 fWAR, leaning on five big flies to boost his offensive numbers.
Had Scutaro’s health held, Hicks’ at-bats (and production) likely would have held firm. As would Joaquin Arias’ time, as he often spells Pablo Sandoval at third base, but Kobe Lite has picked up a few extra plate appearances in Scutaro’s absence. The third-year Giant has struggled, though, hitting a paltry .152 in his first 49 at-bats. FanGraphs rates Arias as the worst offensive player on the roster, awarding him -0.5 WAR. Add in Adrianza’s all-glove/no-hit for 0.0 WAR, and we arrive at the 0.3 wins number from before.
The Giants have cobbled together good production at the position solely because of Hicks, who is unlikely to keep up the power numbers he has displayed this season. While I expect the 28-year-old to crack double-digit home runs in fairly limited playing time, his true value over the course of the next 400 plate appearances should be minimal. Giants second basemen are on pace to sniff the production of a starting second baseman in the big leagues over the course of the season, but that would mean Hicks keeps up the dingerz.
That brings us to our sweet, sweet boy — Joe Panik. A podcast survivor (twice!) and a former first-round pick, Panik is the stuff our dreams are made of in the middle infield. After a blah year in Richmond in the Eastern League (.257/.333/.411 in 2013), the 23-year old is raking in Fresno, at least by his standards. Panik holds a slash-line of .333/.393/.411, which is good even considering the inflated numbers of the Pacific Coast League. He is showing the bat-control that made him a late-first-round pick in 2011. It’s just plums and roses when a prospect plays exactly to his draft-day scouting report. His 8% walk rate isn’t encouraging, but Panik is striking out in just over 10% of his plate appearances this season. Eeeeeaaaaaahhhh good enough.
If Hicks turns into 2012 Dan Uggla — which is a good thing I swear — there will be no need for Panik to make his Major-League debut until September call-ups. But its nice to see that the Giants have a non-roster invitee that is bangin’ (Hicks), a post-hype prospect (Panik) and a guy who has shown he can add a win to a club as a utility guy (Arias). Just damn if it wouldn’t be nice to get something out of the rest of that Scutaro contract. Confounding, indeed.