Prospect Retro: Nick Punto
Several people have asked me for a Prospect Retro for Nick Punto, Minnesota Twins infielder. I think this may be some sort of conspiratorial joke, but I figured, what the heck...maybe we can learn something. So here goes.
Nick Punto was drafted in the 21st round in 1998, by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Saddleback Junior College in California. An undersized switch-hitter, he was rated as a possible future utility infielder due to good speed, good plate discipline, and a solid glove, but lack of size and power prevented higher projection. He was sent to the New York-Penn League after signing, hitting .247/.347/.319 in 72 games for Batavia. As expected, he showed no power, but he did draw 42 walks and steal 19 bases. I didn't put him in the '99 book but would have rated him a Grade C type, having a shot as a utilityman if he hit some at higher levels.
The Phillies liked him and jumped him up to the Florida State League for 1999. He responded with a solid season, hitting .305/.404/.388 with 67 walks and just 53 strikeouts in 400 at-bats. He stole 16 bases, but (as expected) showed little power. He did get on base, though, and his glove got good reviews. I put him in my 2000 book as a Grade C, writing that Punto could "be a viable backup if he shows any oomph with the bat in Triple-A."
Promoted to Double-A Reading in 2000, Punto hit .254/.351/.338. He stole 33 bases and drew 69 walks, and also showed some small-ball ability with 14 sacrifice bunts. He even hit a career-best five homers. Once again I rated him as a Grade C, with a two-sentence summary in the book: "Runs well, will take a walk, but can't hit otherwise. Possible utility type down the road."
Up another level to Triple-A in 2001, Punto had problems adjusting and hit just .229/.327/.298. He still drew walks with 68 and swiped 33 bases, but his strikeout rate shot way up, with 114 whiffs in 463 at-bats. He also grounded into 15 double plays despite his speed. He made his major league debut with four games for the Phillies, but overall the season was a disappointment.
He was more effective in Triple-A in '02 (.271/.378/.327) with 42 steals and 76 walks, cutting his strikeout rate back to a more reasonable level. He spent most of 2003 manning a spot on the Phillies bench, playing in 64 games but getting just 92 at-bats, hitting .217/.273/.272. He ended up with the Twins in 2004 and saw limited action, but then saw substantial playing time with 112 games in 2005.
Punto has been a near-regular for the Twins ever since, shifting between second base, third base, and shortstop as needed. His best seasons were '06 (.290/.352/.373, 17 steals) and '08 (.284/.344/.382 with 15 steals). Overall he is a career .248/.322/.324 hitter.
Punto is a good utility guy due to his versatility, defensive acumen, speed, willingness to take a walk, and little ball ability. All of these talents showed up in the minors and he has carried them forward. On the negative side, his lack of power is a serious weakness, and he's had a hard time hitting .250 in most seasons. I'd love to have him on my team as a utility guy who gets 150-200 at-bats a year, but as a Twins fan I think he plays too much, and I still wish we had a regular third baseman who could actually hit. Punto is the latest in a long line of Minnesota utilitymen with similar skills, dating back to the days of Al Newman and Jeff Reboulet.