Padres Prospect Interview: Will Venable

San Antonio, TX-- In the 2005 draft, Will Venable was considered a risky pick, a 22-year-old college player with only 317 at-bats at Princeton in a conference that isn't exactly known as a baseball powerhouse. Throw in the fact that Venable really only played one full season of college baseball, because of his commitment to basketball, the pick practically defines the phrase "taking a flyer".

After being drafted by the Padres, Venable showed some promise hitting .322/.385/.508 in the Arizona League, but struggling at the more advanced short-season Eugene, hitting only .216/.295/.324. Rest and a full off-season of concentrating only on baseball, however, made a big difference, as Venable bounced back at Fort Wayne hitting .314/.389/.477, earning him the Padres and Minor League Player of the Year for 2006.

Coming into this season, the plan was to have Venable spend at least half the season with the Lake Elsinore Storm, but a good performance in the Hawaiian Winter League, .330/. 390/. 473 and Spring Training, .348, changed some minds.

"I had him penciled into Lake Elsinore, and if he got off to a really good start then mid-season in San Antonio," said Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president of scouting and player development. "We invited him to big league camp because he was our minor league player of the year and he really showed us something with his maturity and approach. I still think he's a year away from learning how to turn on ball. His approach is solid and he really understands what he is doing and what we expect him to do."

In his first month in Double-A Venable, 24, justified the Padres' optimism hitting .349/.394/.407. Are there parts of his game that he still needs to work on? Sure, everyone, including Venable, would like to see a little more power and his ability in the outfield, although good, is still far from his potential.

But right now, there is quite a bit to be excited about for Padres fans.

First off, congratulations on moving from the Midwest League to the Texas League which is quite a jump. What are the biggest changes that you have seen between the two leagues?

Will Venable: Thanks. There is a huge difference just in the lineups that you are going to face; no easy outs and all of the pitchers that you are going to face have good stuff. Luckily, I was able to play in the Hawaii League and the big league camp so it was a gradual process.

So, if you had just jumped from the Midwest League to San Antonio without winter and spring you don't think you would be here.

Will Venable: Exactly. I wouldn't have been here if it wasn't for what I did in the off-season. You can't just make that jump because the pitching is so much better. You need that experience need to see it and adjust before you get here.

Everyone knows about the Arizona Fall League – was the Hawaiian League similar to a High-A Level? It wasn't that you were just going to the beach and hanging out?

Will Venable: No, [laughing] I wish. There were guys who started in High-A, some from Double-A, and some guys like me from the Low-A levels the whole year. It was kind of High-A/Double-A level.

When we talked to you last year in Fort Wayne you said that you could see yourself playing some in center field in addition to left field, but not in right field because you didn't believe that you had the arm strength. Now we see the majority of your playing time is in right field. Has your arm strength picked up from last year?

Will Venable: Yeah, it's gotten better. I still don't feel it's what a right fielder's arm strength should be, but it's good enough to be competitive. As far as my jumps and positioning I think helps me out. It's a gradual process and I'm working on improving, but I'm happy to be out there.

In a recent article Tony Gwynn talked about how much his arm strength improved once he started playing baseball year round and stopped playing basketball. Did you find that was the case with you?

Will Venable: Absolutely. I put a lot of time into this past off-season and that was the difference in me getting better this year. Just from my first year to this there has been quite a bit of improvement.

Toward the end of last year in Fort Wayne you began to hit with more power did that have more to do with recognizing pitches or just being more comfortable at the plate?

Will Venable: It was just getting more comfortable with my swing, staying back and using my legs. Now, I'm not as far behind as I was, it's better now than it was last year. I'm still not using my legs as much as I would like, and I think my power is going to come a little later in the year when I get all parts of my swing going.

One thing about you that has always been interesting to me is that you didn't play baseball your senior year of high school or freshman year of college. How were you able to still become a professional baseball player?

Will Venable: Well, when I went to school, I had talked to the baseball coach about coming out for the team and I worked out with them all through my freshman year. He had seen me play in high school and was happy to work with me, but when the season came around I wasn't able to handle it with school and basketball. It was still difficult, I still struggled my sophomore year and it took me awhile to get comfortable again.

When I talked to you in Fort Wayne you were a bit harsh on your performance in Eugene, but last year you put together one of the best years of anyone in the Padres' system. What was the big turning point for you? Was it the Instructional League?

Will Venable: I think that, not to make any excuses for me, but it rounded out to 13 straight months in being in a sport and straight through August. It just took too much pressure on my mind and my body. I think once I got to instructs I was able to relax a little and concentrate on baseball more. I didn't develop at all in Eugene. Instructs gave me a good base to go into the offseason and I was able to apply that in Fort Wayne.

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