Nick Punto is well-known (and loved) around Twins Territory for his habitual scrappiness. He's like a rabid chihuahua out there. Some might even call him a piranha. Regardless of what type of creature his feisty play resembles, he's going to play his little heart out this spring in an attempt to secure that unspoken-for spot at third base for Opening Day 2010.
Since the team opted to fill the gaps up the middle this offseason with new additions J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, they are left with Punto and Brendan Harris to man the hot corner. Apart, they are just your average career .250-ish hitters with some pretty flashy leather. Together, they are like one really awesome third baseman. Obviously, the answer here is that they platoon the position and use a little thing I like to call teamwork. That is, if Punto's surgically-repaired wrist holds up.
The 32-year-old utility player underwent a minor cleanup operation to mend some torn cartilage in his right wrist about a month ago. He says it feels great and doctors have cleared him for baseball-related activities, such as showing off that sweet horizontal cannon to first base (pictured above.) According to GM Bill Smith however, the team plans to take it easy on him during camp... I guess this means no arm wrestling match between him and Harris to see who gets the starting spot.
Last season, Punto started just three games at third base, but he's seen plenty of action over there in the past. After Tony Batista sucked his way into being released mid-2006, Punto promptly took over his duties. He then kicked off the following year as the everyday third baseman, where he excelled defensively. But for the last two seasons, he's had to elbow his way into playing time... Maybe he wouldn't have it any other way.
"This is fun," he said. "This is what it's all about -- the competitive nature. You try to get in here and compete. Try to prove to the manager that you should be an everyday player. That's fun for me... I'm just here to win a job. I've been in this position before. I enjoy it. I thrive on it. It should be a fun Spring Training."
Was it a smart decision for the organization to leave that third base position open this offseason and rely on Punto and Harris to fill the hole? Harris may have been handed a two-year deal this winter, but Punto has his own holiday.