"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Musical Middle Infielders

The latest buzz coming out of the Twins spring training camp has Jason Bartlett penciled in as our 2005 starting shortstop, with Nick Punto (the early favorite at SS) suddenly in the mix at second as perennial second baseman Luis Rivas tacks a pretty sucky spring training onto the end of four underwhelming seasons.

I threw my support behind Bartlett after seeing him play in two early spring training games. He just looked ready, and nothing he's done since has altered that impression a whit. But Punto at second? Intriguing...

Rivas is a .262 career hitter, and I think it was early last season when I stopped expecting that someday he'd do better than that. He hasn't improved in any significant sense in any significant offensive category since 2001. You can expect that in any given season he'll hit around .260, get a few homers and a few doubles, and steal four or five bases per hundred at-bats. If he were a better bunter, the above would be less disappointing; he is better than most of the team, but since most of the team bunts like angry howler monkeys, it's a pale compliment at best.

Punto, on the other hand, has less than 200 major-league at-bats over four seasons, which makes his entire career at the plate statistically insignificant. My impression from last season is that he hits fairly well when given regular playing time, but he'll need to get 300+ at-bats in a season to prove that out. He can bunt, though, and I do love a good bunt. He can squeeze that baby down the first-base line and pass it in three steps.

Did I mention he's fast? Well, he is. So is Rivas. Rivas steals bases; Punto steals bases. Rivas has a good glove and is consistent; Punto has a good glove and is fearless. If you could give Rivas some of Punto's nerve and Punto some of Rivas's caution, they'd both be greatly improved.

It looks to me that Punto would probably hit about as well as Rivas, and be as good or slightly better in the field...if he could stay healthy. That's our big question mark: will Punto continue to mangle himself attempting impossible plays?

On the other hand, he costs about 25% of what we're paying Rivas, and he's a switch hitter. He might hit for high average if played everyday, he's never had the opportunity to find out. Frankly, I'm ready to give him a chance just because he hasn't spent the last three years slowly disappointing all who behold him. Rivas has had his chances. Maybe he should spend some time sitting on the bench watching someone else play his position. And if Punto gets injured (again), we have an experienced Plan B waiting in the wings.

So hey, why not? We know what we'd get out of Rivas. Let's give the unknown a whirl.

0 rejoinders: