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Putting Himself In The Forefront
Stanford's Danny Putnam hits his way into the first round
By Joe Ritzo
PALO ALTO, Calif.—You don't see many 5-foot-10 corner outfielders in major league baseball these days. However, Stanford junior Danny Putnam has plans to change that.
And while he doesn't have the 6-foot-plus frame scouts would like to see in a hitter, it's hard to argue with his success at the plate. Everywhere he's gone, Putnam has produced.
Playing at powerhouse Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego, Putnam was named the California player of the year after clubbing 19 homers as a senior. Then at Stanford, Putnam put up huge numbers as a sophomore in 2003, when he hit .348-16-66 in helping lead the Cardinal to the College World Series.
To prove he was no metal-bat hero, Putnam had an all-star summer in 2002 in the Cape Cod League, hitting .298-3-8 for Hyannis.
Putnam elevated his lofty reputation with a wood bat as Team USA's starting left fielder last summer. Playing for South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner, Putnam hit a sizzling .321-2-22 in 112 at-bats.
"I was a Danny Putnam fan from the first day," Tanner said. "I thought he was a Brian Giles guy waiting to break out. He's a blue-collar guy."
Like Giles, Putnam erases concerns about his size by simply producing. At Stanford this year, the junior was hitting .395-14-50, and had more walks (30) than strikeouts (24). Despite his 5-foot-10, 195-pound drame, Putnam could be a first-round pick. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Billy Beane, who also played for Sam Blalock, Putnam's high school coach, take him for the Athletics late in the first round.
"My goal has always been to be an impact player in the big leagues," he said. "Not just to play college ball or be a good high school player. And (the draft) will be one step closer to that goal."
Always Ready To Go
Putnam's combination of talent and work ethic are helping him take those steps. His work ethic was evident to Tanner last summer. After Stanford's humiliating 14-2 defeat at the hands of Rice in the title game of last year's CWS. Putnam wasted no time in making arrangements to attend Team USA's tryouts in Arizona.
"Thirty minutes after losing the championship, he called (then-Team USA director) Steve Cohen and said, 'What about my flight?' We were going to give him room to breathe and call the next day, but he was ready to roll," Tanner said. "He was in Tucson by 11:30 a.m. the next day. What's that say about the guy?"
So it was no surprise Putnam played at the Pan Am Games in the Dominican Republic despite being extremely sick. On a 100-degree afternoon, an IV was inserted into his arm before a game and he found his way into the lineup.
"He refused to sit out," Tanner said. "I love those throwback guys like him."
His stint with Team USA wasn't the first time Putnam had found himself surrounded by talented players. And until this year, he also has seemed to be overshadowed.
Back in his high school days, Putnam was at one point teammates with future first-round picks Matt Wheatland, Scott Heard and Cole Hamels. He also played with Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock, Sam's nephew. Despite the scouts those talents helped attract, Putnam wasn't drafted out of high school. Nevertheless, he still looks back at his high school experience as the foundation to his success.
"I've always wanted to play with the best and compete with the best," he said. "In high school, playing with guys like Hank Blalock, I always modeled my game after him even though he was a couple years older. The thing that always impressed me about him is he didn't care if the pitcher was throwing 93 or 83, he was going to go rake. That was his approach. He had a fearless attitude at the plate."
Recruited by Stanford, he was again lost in the shuffle, part of a recruiting class that included high-profile recruits such as Billy Paganetti, Mark Jecmen and Chris Carter.
But on the eve of the draft, Putnam has moved to the front of the class. He credits his mental growth at Stanford as a primary reason for his development.
"The thing I've learned here (at Stanford) is how to be my own player," he said. "How to work with the coaches, but still be my own player. How to pick their brains, but still understand my swing."
"And obviously I love how they teach to play the game hard, because that's how I've always played."
Joe Ritzo covers the Cardinal for KZSU radio and thebootleg.com. Will Kimmey contributed to this story.