When the Dodgers made the blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox last summer, the center pieces of the trade was obviously Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford. Both of those guys have been great, but perhaps there was one player who was overlooked.
Utility man Nick Punto is slowly but surely sliding into the first base of our hearts this season. Punto has been a pleasant surprise with his hot start to the month of April. He’s kind of grown on me. I admit I have been surprised at how useful Punto has been this season. Not only has he showed a surprising amount of utility, but he has gotten off to a very good start with the bat. Punto went 1 for 5 last night, and is now hitting.375 in 2013, and he finished the month of April with a .400 batting average.
Punto is a 35 year old veteran switch-hitter who can play all four infield positions adequately. Punto is a Southern California native who is originally from San Diego, and went to school in Mission Viejo. He was originally drafted by the Phillies in the 1998 draft, and made his MLB debut with Philadelphia in 2001 at age 23. Most people considered Punto a throw-in during the trade with Boston. Although he keeps impressing me with his on-base skills this year.
Punto has played for five different Major League teams (Phillies, Cardinals, Twins, Red Sox, Dodgers) over 13 MLB seasons, but spent most of his career in the American League with the Twins. Punto is a career .249 hitter, with a .327 OBP and has hit 15 career home runs. Punto has stolen 99 bases, and back in the day had four straight seasons of 15 or more stolen bases.
It was hard to judge the scrappy little gamer last season. He only had 35 at-bats with the Dodgers in 2012. In those 35 at-bats he posted a .286/.390/.314 (10 for 35) line in 43 plate appearances. He had one extra-base hit, and six walks. Punto played 22 games in 12’, seeing time at second, third base, and short.
This season Punto has been getting hits and getting on-base at a decent clip. His on base skills off the bench have been a welcome change from the normally weak Dodger bench hitters. Punto has 14 hits in 35 at-bats this season, and is batting .375 in 42 plate appearances. He’s hitting .583 (7 for 12) against left handers, and .429 when he is in the starting lineup. What I have heard about him is that when he is in the starting lineup he’s pretty decent. So far that has held up to be true.
With the slew of injuries this year, Punto figures to see more playing time at three of the four infield positions. He may not be the greatest defender in the world, but he’s shown the ability to be versatile if nothing else. He still ranks at around league average at all positions he’s played.
Punto earned the nickname of Shredder for his habit of ripping teammate’s jerseys off of their backs after a walk-off hit. It is unknown if his teammates would rip off his jersey if he hit a walk-off himself. I would love to see the Shredder become the Shredded. He is also well known for his famous and entertaining head first slides into first base. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite Dodgers this season.
We all laugh at the usual rhetoric that’s attached to players like Punto. You know what is said. He’s soooooo gritty. Just look at him. He plays the game the right way. He’s a gamer. Etc…etc…etc….Normally that cheesy nonsense makes me want to vomit, but it actually holds true about Punto. You’ve seen how dirty his uniform gets after games. It’s not just from all of those head first slides either. It’s pure grittiness.
The 2013 Dodger offense has been a disappointment so far, but Nick Punto has been one of the lone offensive threats off the bench. It’s something that should not go unnoticed. I know it’s a small sample size, but he’s at least showed some kind of skill at the plate, and that’s nothing to scoff at during this tough time of inconsistent offense. Punto has done everything that has been asked of him in the first month of the season. Let’s give the guy his credit. He’s been a spark at the top of the lineup, and here’s to hoping the plucky veteran utility man never stops shredding.