Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is Will Venable?

If ever there was a time for the Padres to suffer Will Venable's whiffs, dribblers and popouts against lefties, this month looked like that time.

The Padres saw it differently.

Manager Bud Black gave Venable only five plate appearances against lefties, even with righty Chris Denorfia unavailable to play right field. And the trend likely will continue, Black told this blog today.

"With Will," Black said by phone from San Francisco, "he'd really have to be hitting the ball well off right-handers for us to say, 'We're going to keep you playing your total game.' "

Venable is a .218 hitter against lefties for his career, so he sits against most lefties, Black said, "because we're still trying to win games."

When Denorfia was giving the Padres a .298 batting average against righties and Venable was floundering overall, the decision invited less scrutiny, but Denorifa hasn't played since he was injured on July 30.

Denorfia's starts have gone to Aaron Cunningham, who has batted .175 this month (7-for-40) with five extra-base hits. Cunningham, 25, will be out of minor league options next year, so this may be an audition for him.

Venable, for his part, is having one of his best months as a Padre -- .333 batting average over 60 at-bats, a .403 on-base percentage  and a slugging rate of .617 with five doubles, three triples and two home runs. Stealing bases, he is 5-for-5.

Four scouts polled by this blog were unanimous that Venable has more upside than Cunningham despite being three years older. Two scouts said Venable, one of the better athletes in National League,  still has the potential to be an everyday player, but the clock is ticking loudly because he'll be 29 in October and still can look lost at the plate. The consensus was that Venable can be a good fourth outfielder, a standard that he sometimes has met as a platoon man.

If nothing else, Venable is improving his chances of getting the majority of the starts in right field next year.

When he got the same chance in April, he fumbled it.

"The question we have to ask ourselves is: 'What is Will Venable?' " Black said. "What is he?"

In late May, the Padres sent Venable to Triple-A  to find one swing and stick to it. He returned 16 days later and showed better form.

One reason Venable long has struggled against lefties -- and still does -- is they expose his vulnerabilities to outside pitches.

Yet batting against lefties can develop a lefty hitter's fundamentals, Tony Gwynn has said many times, because it forces the hitter "to stay on the ball."

Another Padre who struggled against lefties was Ryan Klesko, who said he improved against them after manager Bruce Bochy suffered his poor results and gave him extra chances.

It's a familiar Catch-22. The only way for a lefty to learn how to hit against lefties is to bat off them, but there is no guarantee the struggles will pay off later. Venable has only 35 at-bats against lefties this year. And the day the Padres drafted him out of Princeton in 2005, he already was playing catch up, owing to his years as a basketball star.

August arrived with the Padres in last place, 16 games under .500 and far enough from playoff contention that the front office traded star reliever Mike Adams for two minor leaguers.

Black's job security wasn't on the line. The league's Manager of the Year in 2010, Black is under a guaranteed contract through 2013 with club options for 2014-15.

"Listen, I'm all for development and finding out about guys," Black said. "But there are 24 other guys you've got to think about, too. This isn't about Will Venable or Kyle Blanks or Logan Forsythe or Anthony Rizzo. We're trying to win. Those guys will get their chances."

1 comment:

  1. Isn't it weird that he had to go down to the minors to fix his swing? What is the minor league hitting instructor doing that the major league one isn't?

    Or was it just that he was able to play 7 straight games without being sat or pulled?

    Venable is having his best month because (up until the roster expansion) he was allowed to play baseball and not sit for Denorfia to come in.

    Considering Venable was at .220 when Deno was at .340 the fact that there is only .20 separating them now says a lot, but no one is listening.

    Venable will get his chance to play when the Padres trade him. Bud Black will never be able to groom a LH hitter unless they're the 1 in a million like Adrian. Any other Lefty and he'll run them out of town in frustration from watching worse players bat in their place.