One of the best ways for a player to prove their value to their organization is learning how to play multiple positions. By doing this, prospects have an opportunity to get penciled into the lineup more often. Those extra days can lead to more consistent at-bats, and better play in the field moving forward.
Focused on doing just that in his professional career, versatile prospect Connor Panas has reported to the Lansing Lugnuts. Currently adjusting to a full season workload, Panas is in good shape and finding extra playing time in an already deep lineup.
What makes Panas a valuable tool for the Lugnuts — Toronto’s Single A team — is the fact that he can play both corner infield and outfield spots. Drafted a year ago as a third baseman, the 23-year-old has yet to play his natural position in professional baseball, but that hasn’t slowed him down.
Primarily performing as an outfielder in the early stages of his career, Panas has committed only two errors, while maintaining a .976 fielding percentage in 346 2/3 innings. Factor that in with an additional 60 1/3 innings at first base where Panas has taken part in six doubles plays, while assisting on another two shows the kind of defensive presence you like to see in a professional-level player.
His quick start in the field should come as little surprise as Panas began his transition to the outfield in his senior year at Canisius College.
“In college I played third base from my freshman to junior year,” stated Panas. “But by the start of my senior year we had limited depth in the outfield. Many people don’t realize I’m pretty fast for a bigger guy so they tried me in the outfield. I guess a bunch of MLB scouts liked what they saw in me out there and I take great pride in switching positions. I can play outfield, first, or third if they want me there as well. Playing different positions gives you a better chance of being in the lineup on a regular basis.”
But despite the excellent start in the field, Panas is more known for his ability to get clutch hits in the batter’s box. The prospect has recorded 58 hits in 228 at-bats, which includes 10 doubles, two triples, and six home runs on his way to a .254/.346/.395 slash line.
Transitioning well since leaving Canisius, Panas has picked up where he left off at the NCAA level. There he carried an impressive .344/.447/.522 slash line, while collecting 254 hits, and driving in 154 runs.
Even though he enjoyed great success at the collegiate level, it was more than numbers that made his experience at Canisius memorable.
“I was overlooked out of high school,” explained Panas. “I never made Ontario Youth Team. I never made Team Canada. So going to college really developed me both physically and mentally. We lifted every day and I knew what I needed to do. Canisius was a smaller school, but we went to four championships while I was there. We won two of them. I played in two regionals and I definitely believe the experience prepared me well for pro ball.”
It was those four seasons that made Panas a big draft target last June. After talking to several teams throughout the process, the Toronto native remained on the board entering the 9th round of the amateur draft.
He didn’t stay on the board long afterwards as the Toronto Blue Jays nabbed the promising local talent with the 272nd overall pick. While being selected by any organization would’ve been special for Panas, there was a bigger thrill being taken by his hometown squad.
“I’m from Toronto, so being picked by the Blue Jays was very surreal,” stated Panas. “Just growing up watching the Jays and idolizing those players made it feel unreal. But it was definitely one of the best days of my life. Knowing I was going to play professional baseball for the team I grew up watching was special.”
Not taking this opportunity for granted, Panas put in a lot of work in the offseason to prepare for the challenges of his first spring camp with hopes of being promoted to a 140-game affiliate.
“I really wanted to focus on baseball in my first offseason,” said Panas. “I took about two weeks off after the long season split between college and professional baseball. I started lifting five or six days a week. Shortly after that I started baseball. I worked really hard at it all winter.”
Obviously, doubling your games can bring about some new challenges in terms of conditioning. Despite the changes in the length of his professional season, Panas feels fully prepared for the obstacles that lay ahead of him this season.
“I feel I’ve got myself in shape for the longer workload this season,” said Panas. “I’ve worked hard in terms of preparation and I recover quickly. It’s been working so far and I’m going to continue with my current approach. If I need to make any changes over the season I will.”
Making it to the big leagues can be a lofty goal for any player. But if anybody has the right mindset it’s Panas who has dealt with adversity in the game for years.
If Connor Panas can continue to show the same kind of resilience an opportunity in the show might not be too far away.