Alas, the big season never materialized, as an early season slump and a knee injury conspired to ruin Putnam's 2006 season. Now healthy again, Putnam is back in spring camp swinging well and he could be poised to make 2007 his breakout season.
While scouts have questioned pretty much every other aspect of Putnam's game, his ability to hit has never been in doubt. The left-hander was a star for the Stanford Cardinal, hitting 16 homeruns in both his sophomore and junior seasons. Questions about his size and his ability to handle a corner outfield position defensively caused Putnam to slip into the supplemental first round, where the A's selected him in 2004.
Already a polished hitter upon being drafted, Putnam was the first position player that the A's selected in 2004 to be moved up to a full-season affiliate. He played in only 11 games for short-season Vancouver before his promotion to low-A Kane County and he was impressive, hitting posting a .481 OBP and a .500 SLG in 38 at-bats for the Canadians. Putnam didn't find quite the same level of success at Kane County, hitting only .219. However, he showed decent power, blasting seven homeruns in only 160 at-bats.
In 2005, the A's sent Putnam to High-A Stockton, where he would be the Ports top run producer player. He also proved to be one of the team's most durable players, playing in 131 games, good for second on the team. Putnam surprised a number of people with his play out in the field. He showed a better throwing arm than was previously advertised, throwing out 10 runners from the outfield. He also showed decent range.
It seemed that Putnam was poised for a smooth transition to Double-A in 2006, having gotten a taste of Double-A pitching during the 2005 playoff season. However, he got off to a poor start in April (.241/.330/.402 in 87 at-bats) that got even worse in May (.189/.256/.257 in 74 at-bats). His dismal May performance came to an abrupt end mid-month when he injured his knee. That knee injury would cost him the next seven weeks.
Putnam returned to the field in late July, playing for the A's Rookie League affiliate as part of his rehabilitation. After a brief stint in Arizona, Putnam was sent up to Stockton. Returning to where he had been so successful the year before seemed to rejuvenate Putnam, who hit .375 with a homer, two doubles and nine RBI in 40 at-bats for the Ports. Finally swinging the bat well, Putnam returned to Midland looking nothing like the .200 hitter he was when he was last there in May.
In 64 at-bats for the Rockhounds in August and September, Putnam redeemed himself to the tune of a .313 batting average and a 1000 OPS. He hit six homers and four doubles. During one red-hot four game stretch, Putnam hit five homers and drove-in nine. He was named the Texas League Player of the Week for the week of August 27.
Putnam reported to spring training in great shape and completely healthy. He was swinging with confidence early in camp and put on quite a show during a major league spring game against the Angels on March 18, going 3-4 with a two-RBI double.
The Stanford alum is a natural line-drive hitter who almost evenly distributes his hits between left, right and centerfields. Although he has a tendency to strike out a decent amount, Putnam also has a good eye and he works the count well. He has 20 HR-power right now, but that could develop into the 25-HR range down the road. Although he isn't as athletic as Andre Ethier, Putnam's hitting strengths are similar to that of the former A's prospect. Putnam has very good hands in the outfield and average range – basically he makes nearly all of the plays he can get to and occasionally makes a play that appears out of his range.
Despite the Texas League's hitter-friendly reputation, Citibank Field (home of the Midland Rockhounds) does not favor hitters. It is especially tough on left-handed power hitters like Putnam. In fact, when park adjustments are made to Putnam's 2006 statistical line, his OPS jumps from 779 to 802. Putnam is likely to start the season at Midland, so that park factor should still artificially deflate his numbers somewhat in 2007. However, Putnam appears to have made some good adjustments to his approach to hitting at Citibank Field at the end of last season. Five of the six homeruns he hit with Midland after returning from injury were at home. If he is healthy and swinging with the confidence he displayed at the end of last season, Putnam could put up big numbers this year.