SS: The Anchor
Much like at the previous position I review, second base, the shortstop position was thought to be locked down early in the season by newcomer Adam Everett. However, Everett’s sub-par batting average (.213) and multitude of injuries once again made it necessary to turn to old stalwart Nick Punto to become the starting shortstop.
Now, there are many of you out there you probably think that Nick Punto is not a major-league caliber player (at least offensively). However, surprisingly enough, he added an element to the Twins’ lineup that proved crucial to them scoring runs all season: speed from the #9 hold in the lineup. With guys like Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Punto batting consecutively in some fashion, their combined speed put a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing pitchers, as every batted ball needed to be played perfectly in order to record an out.
Of course, Punto WAS effective because his .284 batting average was a huge improvement from his 2007 campaign, when he flirted with the Mendoza line for a good portion of the season. He was on-base enough times to make himself valuable, also stealing 15 bases in the process. In years past, when the Twins were desperate to score runs, Punto would be a huge liability in the lineup, but with the better hitting the Twins could count on in 2008, Punto’s athletic play was useful.
But let’s not kid ourselves too much here…Punto is really in the lineup every day in large part because of his spectacular infield defense. Whether at shortstop or anywhere on the diamond, Punto is a human highlight reel, turning in remarkable play after remarkable play.
Looking ahead to 2009, Nick Punto (provided he continues to produce at least average offense) should be the starting shortstop for a large portion of the season (when he’s not filling in somewhere else!).
For a more long-term future of the shortstop position (and in case of a Punto injury, say, diving headfirst into first base), the Twins have developed another dynamic youngster in Matt Tolbert. First called up from the minors when Everett went on the DL, Tolbert was very impressive both in the field and at the plate. A wrist injury then sidelined him for nearly the rest of the season, but he ended up hitting .283 in 113 at-bats. He could easily eclipse 300 at-bats next season (as Punto is often needed elsewhere).