Interview: Wizards hitting coach Max Venable

Some of the Padres' brightest prospects spent the year with the Fort Wayne Wizards. Kyle Blanks, Daryl Jones and Seth Johnston are just a few names on the list. We recently got a chance to catch up with Wizards hitting coach Max Venable (he will be the hitting coach in Lake Elsinore in 2007) to discuss these prospects and more...

How do you measure success over the course of a full season as the hitting coach?

Max Venable: I think success as a coach during the year, as long as you look at where you initially started from and how guys come out of spring training and their progress throughout the year. I think if there is a steady incline where guys are getting the good information, the knowledge of the game, how to make adjustments. I kind of base it on that. When guys are showing signs of actually getting it, with hitting, and all aspects of the game, that is what you look for.

Were you surprised by the guys on your roster grasping the concept of being patiently aggressive because the Fort Wayne squad led the league in walks.

Max Venable: I think going into spring training, I thought the kids did a pretty good job adapting to that. When I was coming up it was ‘if you see a fastball you better jump on it quick. You might not get it again.' At the lower levels, especially where we were this year it is basically teaching the kids not that they have to take a pitch but if you are going to swing at the first pitch you need to know you can get a good swing at it. Basically, the patiently comes in being patient to get your pitch that you can handle and not just going up there and swinging at any fastball that comes up there. Some guys come out of college that were new to this program I thought that they did quite well. In the sense with the younger kids it gives them an opportunity to see more pitches and to trust their whole approach swinging with two strikes.

Kyle Blanks you lost for the latter part of the year with the leg infection but he really performed quite well for a young kid in the Midwest League.

Max Venable: It was sad to lose that guy. He is such a great kid. Just his presence on the field, being as big as he is, and being young and very competitive. He had an outstanding year.

It is funny you bring his name up. With him missing time and he slowly got back into hitting stuff and how we talked about the progress of the year and the word adjustment. We kept saying, ‘Kyle, it is all about adjustments.' He said, ‘Max, I really didn't know about that but now I know.' He made some great adjustments during the course of the year to get where he was until he got hurt. He had a great year. It was very disappointing that he missed time.

Daryl Jones was in a similar boat. He had a bad season the year before and came back with a hot start before tailing off as the season wore on.

Max Venable: Daryl was a little different than Kyle. Daryl started off extremely hot and then tapered off a little bit. I think he got into a rut where he was so frustrated. And as competitive as he is and as aggressive as he is as a hitter and as young as he is he just didn't put the whole package in as far as being patient and being a little bit more pitch savvy as far as selection – a little too amped at times. To me that is a good thing but it hurt him in the long run.

Where people were saying about him last year and where he was he made incredible improvements. He is on the right track. He just turned 20 – he is on the right track. He has great bat speed. With the bat speed he has a little more maturity to the game and he will be fine.

I remember seeing Seth Johnston in spring training and thought he had the confidence that is necessary to put it all together and early in the season that was evident. Then, he suffered a couple of injuries and never really got back to that early mental state.

Max Venable: His year – the numbers he put up was a good year for him but it could have been better. He went through some injuries – the wrist injury. He battled hard. If you watched his swing during that time he hung in there pretty tough. To come out as he did with the injury and missing time I would say it was a successful year for the kid. The only adjustment we made was changing his bat angle a bit which allowed him to get to some balls on the inner half. His strength is pretty much straight away but more to right-center. There were some balls inside that he didn't handle consistently and with that adjustment he was able to get to some balls on the inner half and pull them.

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