Twins' blogger Andrew Kneeland proclaimed today "Nick Punto Day" across the Twins' blogosphere. So, as a card-carrying member of the blogosphere, I find it my civic duty to pass along my thoughts on the diminuitive Twins' utility player.
Perhaps no single player attracts as much attention and/or scorn among Twins' followers than Punto. The facts show that Punto is a career .248/.322/.324 hitter in nine MLB seasons. Since joining the Twins in a trade prior to the 2004 season (along with Carlos Silva for Eric Milton), Punto has appeared many different places across the diamond and has hit .249/.325/.327 in just over 2,400 plate appearances. He is truly one of manager Ron Gardenhire's favorite players.
Simply put, the guy cannot hit and is not an everyday player. Still, that has never stopped Gardenhire from finding ways to pencil him into a lineup. He shows occasional flashes of brilliance, such as his .290/.352/.3373 2006 campaign, the .284/.344/.382 miracle in 2008, and his outstanding .292/.407/.375 month of September last season. Throw in his fielding (Career UZR/150 marks of +3.9 at 2B, +19.9 at 3B, and +18.1 at SS, with at least 226 games at each position), and it's easy to see how Gardenhire became enamored with Punto.
However, in this day and age, Punto doesn't hit enough - and his defense is not good enough - to justify a spot in an everyday lineup. Twenty years ago, a career .248/.322/.342 batting line would warrant a "good glove, no hit" moniker and likely an everyday spot. However, with offensive production necessary in an extremely difficult American League, players of Punto's caliber simply don't cut it day in and day out.
In 2010, the Twins will almost certainly go to battle with either Punto or Brendan Harris as the starting third baseman. If Punto's the starter, I'm fine with that. Given the presence of Orlando Hudson in the lineup, batting second (instead of Gardy inexplicably putting Punto there far too often) and playing solid defense, the lineup is fine with Punto at third - provided he continues to catch the ball. With Punto batting ninth, the Twins will have plenty of offense from the other spots of the lineup to counteract Punto's complete lack of production. This is a far cry from the last six weeks of 2009 when the Twins had BOTH Punto and Matt Tolbert - nearly identical players - in the lineup each night, and somehow managing to win.
Punto's value to the Twins is in his versatility, his ability to field consistently, and his decent speed. He is not an everyday player, but the 2010 Twins may be able to get by with him in the lineup every day because of its overall balance.
For me, I hope Danny Valencia hits .600 this spring and Punto is relegated to the bench. Hey, a man can dream, no?