“That’s my favorite and most natural position and the position I enjoy playing the most. I’m looking forward to it.” – Mike Aviles
“It’s my natural position, the position I feel the most comfortable at, and it’s the position I love to play.” – Nick Punto
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the two new starting shortstops for the Boston Red Sox.
Once word came down that Marco Scutaro would be playing in Colorado next season, the next logical line of questioning emanating from Red Sox land was who would start at shortstop for the Red Sox. The perceived Plan B, Jed Lowrie, had been dealt to Houston earlier in the offseason, and prospect Jose Iglesias isn’t considered quite ready for everyday big league duty.
That left Aviles and Punto.
The 30-year-old Aviles’ name had been surfaced throughout the offseason after it became a distinct possibility that he would be seeing some time in the outfield after the trade of Josh Reddick. He had worked at the new position for just more than two weeks in Puerto Rico in early December, and had continued his evolution while taking fly balls at Dixie State Junior College in St. George, Utah.
Word on Punto after he inked a two-year deal with the Red Sox was that he would be serving as the team’s utility infielder, especially now without Lowrie.
Now -- even though neither player has been told what the spring training plans might be -- it is no huge leap of faith to suggest that both players are going to get a crack at returning to the position they think of as home.
“My natural position is as a shortstop,” Aviles said by phone from his Utah home. “That’s my favorite position and that’s my natural position.”
“I had played there ever since Little League,” Punto explained after a workout at The Cutting Edge training facility in Lake Forest, Calif. “I didn’t play second base until I got to the major leagues.”
It’s true that both players were born and bred as shortstops.
Aviles played the position at Concordia College before being drafted by the Royals in 2003. But after a few years in the minors, the Royals decided to move him over to third base. Upon the arrival of the Dayton Moore regime, Aviles was transferred back over to the middle of the infield, where he played both shortstop and second base.
Upon breaking into the majors in ’08, Aviles found himself primarily back at shortstop, starting 91 games at the position in his rookie year. But after undergoing Tommy John surgery in ’09, he returned a year later and landed back at second before ultimately starting ’11 at third base.
“I think honestly throwing from third is a little harder than short,” he explained. “You have to set your feet a little bit and you have more time, and usually when you have more time on your hands those are the throws you mess up. But the last couple of years my arm has been perfectly fine. I haven’t had any problems with it. I feel like my arm is back to normal strength again.”
In all, Aviles has played 152 of his 359 major league games at shortstop.
“I’m excited,” he said. “There’s a lot of time left and I don’t know if there will be any more trades or any more signings. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not going to focus on it. It does excite me just the fact I could be playing short again.”
As he pointed out, Punto knew nothing but shortstop prior to entering the majors with the Phillies in ’01. But in his first four seasons in the big leagues he would play second base more than any other position, manning shortstop a total of 46 times.
“I guess the good thing is when you’re stuck behind Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley you have to learn all the positions, so now I feel comfortable at all three of them,” the 34-year-old said.
Punto’s most significant runs at shortstop came in ’08 and ’09 with the Twins, when he played 61 and 58 games, respectively. While with the Cardinals in ’11, he spent eight games at short.
“As of right now, on paper, it looks like there’s definitely some playing time, so I’ll prepare for that and I’m excited about the opportunity,” he said.
“I make the plays. I’m going to make all the routine plays. I love how much you have to be into the game. You can’t take any plays off, you’re kind of in charge, and I kind of embrace that. Also, being on that side of the field I like the ball coming at me that way. I really liked my time at third base.”
Like Aviles, Punto feels time further away from an injury -- in his case hernia surgery performed during last season’s spring training -- will serve him well.
“I would say I feel a lot healthier, a lot stronger,” he said. “I came off that hernia surgery, so last spring training wasn’t much fun. I felt that kind of hindered my performance all year, staying on the field. This year there’s no holdups, I’m just training and it’s been a lot of fun.
“I never change the way I approach the game, and the way I train in the offseason is to play baseball. I don’t prepare to sit on the bench and be a utility guy. If that’s your role you have to embrace it, but I’m training the same way. What happened in the last couple of weeks is a little bit more of an opportunity and hopefully some more playing time and I’m looking forward to that.”