Where Are They Now: Brett Bonvechio

WALDORF, MD: Brett Bonvechio was in the Padres' organization for four years with stops at Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore, Mobile and last year in San Antonio after being acquired from the Boston Red Sox in 2004.

Primarily a third baseman, but also seeing some time at first and a little at catcher, the left-handed hitting Bonvechio had his best season in 2005 with the Lake Elsinore Storm hitting .267/.385/.460.

Although he did accumulate quite a few strikeouts, he also posted an on-base percentages of .340 or better in his last three years and showed some power. In 2006, after a tough start in Double-A, Bonvechio suffered a severe knee injury in July, which kept him off the field until midway of '08.

When he returned he put up some of the better numbers of his career in San Antonio before injuring himself again on a wet infield in Tulsa, which shut him down after only 40 games and forced him to undergo off-season back surgery, which nearly ended his career.

At 25, he found himself in the unenviable position of being caught in a numbers game with the Padres – too many players they thought more of at the corner infield positions at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

Still looking to continue his career, Bonvechio signed with the Camden Riversharks of the Atlantic League, probably the best of the seven independent minor leagues with each of the eight clubs having one or more former major league players. The Riversharks team includes former longtime Padres starter Brian Lawrence among a few other former big leaguers.

Bonvechio may be better known to Madfriars.com readers for his ability to predict home runs, which he did twice and delivered both times in Lake Elsinore and Mobile, in response to jokingly complaining that he received no respect from minor league pundits.

This year, he's off to a slow start with Camden hitting .227/.317/.417, but his peripheral statistics show some promise with 39 RBIs in 44 games, seven home runs and his BB/K ratio, something that he's struggled with in the past, is a solid 21/36 in 184 plate appearances.

We caught up with him before a recent game against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. Bonvechio wasn't able to duplicate what he did before, nothing left the park, but he did go 2-for-4, with an RBI, scored and was on base three times in addition to some nice defensive plays around the bag at first.

I'm sure he'll take that, and apparently the Chicago White Sox liked what they saw too. On June 16, they signed Bonvechio and assigned him to the Winston Salem Warthogs of the Carolina League.

You were with the Padres in San Antonio last year and had a really strong June and July then you hurt your back. You then struggled in August and eventually went on the DL. Why don't you catch everyone up on what has happened with you since then? I think last time I saw you were on the training table with considerable pain.

Brett Bonvechio: Yeah, that's right. I was diagnosed with a torn disc in my back and had surgery on October 2. Pretty much was a month in bed with two weeks in the hospital where I wasn't allowed to move and another two weeks at home in bed. Then it was just walking for the next couple of months in a really slow rehab process. Once I was allowed back in the weight room it got better much quicker. I really didn't get to start baseball related activities until mid-January.

That is pretty tough for anyone to compete healthy at this level where everyone uses the whole off-season to improve.

Brett Bonvechio: I'm used to starting my workouts in November. So I had to change things because of my back, and I had to rush certain things that I didn't want too, but really it was more of an example of just resting my body more. Not being dumb about it. If I woke up sore, I would take the day off where before I would try to work through it, and I think it actually paid off because I feel pretty good.

What happened with the Padres last year? You were having a good year before you got hurt, did they just tell you it was a numbers decision?

Brett Bonvechio: My contract was up in November so I was going to be a free agent so we called them immediately. We thought because of my injuries that my best bet was going back with them, and I wanted to go back with them – I enjoyed the organization and had good friends over there. It really was kind of a numbers game. They said they were filled up at the corner positions at the higher levels and the injuries didn't help me out. I took it in stride and shopped myself around elsewhere and everyone said they wanted to see if I was healthy before they would commit, so the independent route was the best way for me to go.

‘Prove to us your healthy, and we can talk afterwards' was the general opinion.

When you talk about players in independent ball you start to assume that everyone here had really bad numbers, but when you look at what you hit when you were healthy it wasn't that bad - .266/.370/.547. Is this kind of better for you being in the Atlantic League right now because if you had signed right away, you could have gone into a bad situation. Here at least if you perform you may be able to become a little more selective for the right opportunity.

Brett Bonvechio: I've looked at it both ways, and don't get me wrong, I would love to be somewhere playing in an organization; it's just one of those things that you have to keep your head up. To be honest with you, playing in the Atlantic League and being with the guys here – the consensus is that we are here because we love to play. We aren't here for the money, the fame; we just want another shot at playing affiliated ball. Also, it's really fun. Right now, it's just a waiting game and all you can do is go out and play hard.

You've played at every level in the minors except Triple-A. How does this level compare to where you have played before?

Brett Bonvechio: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it is somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A in the Atlantic League. You have guys that have played 10 years in the big leagues, but then again you have guys that have never pitched above A-ball. You don't have as many hard throwers, but you have better pitchers. I've faced guys that may not be throwing 92-93, but they are throwing 86-87 and you think you are going to crush this guy but end up going 0-for-4, 1-for-4 and have a couple of roll-overs because they hit their spots. It's really a step up from Double-A, and I can't speak on Triple-A because I haven't been there, but these guys really know how to pitch.

I was just in Portland watching Chase Headley and Matt Antonelli, two of the Padres top prospects that are known for their patience at the plate, and they were struggling early in the year. It seems if you go up to the plate just looking middle-in all the time more advanced pitchers are going to get ahead of you early in the count.

Brett Bonvechio: They will paint you up. They don't throw as many balls and the ones that they do throw are closer. It's a change of approach and you to be patient with it and realize that these guys have been around for a long time and know what they are doing. It's a learning process, and I think Triple-A would be the same as this. Here, you don't have as many young guys who throw really hard but veteran pitchers who know what they want to do every single pitch against you.

How do you approach it then? You were someone that always had quite a few walks, strikeouts and extra base hits to go along with a good OBP. It seems like you were someone that was always looking middle-in too. If I don't get it, I'm taking strike one, and maybe even two until I get what I want. How do you adjust to better pitching at this level?

Brett Bonvechio: My approach changed a lot last year when I worked with Jim Lefebvre [one of the Padres hitting instructors] in extended spring training last year when I was rehabbing my knee. He always advocated working on your strength so that when you get a pitch middle-in not missing it or when I did miss it maybe only once out of three or four times. I'll give the pitcher the outside part of the plate early in the count; maybe with one strike expand it more and with two a little more. Again it changes from pitcher to pitcher, whether he is right-handed or left-handed. How hard does he throw, how he got me out. My approach really is never the same with any pitcher.

I can see doing that in the majors with video and advance scouting, but how do you do this in the minors?

Brett Bonvechio: For me I've always – we had to keep books in rookie ball with the Red Sox – but I've always been able to remember pitchers. I may not remember his name, but I could tell you what he threw, what I hit off of him or how he got me out. Really, I just use my ability to remember. The first time, if I see someone I may make a note or two about someone who made me look bad in the box but rarely look at it, writing it down is just a way of reinforcing it in my mind.

You hurt yourself on a bad infield in Tulsa last year, where are you playing more now and are you playing pain free?

Brett Bonvechio: I've been playing third, then we got an injury to Jason Phillips and I moved over to first, but when he comes back I'll move back to third. My fielding is good, I feel comfortable at both third and first – I feel comfortable at either. I still work on my agilities and first step quickness. Really for me it's been about reading ground balls and taking better routes. I may not be the quickest guy in the world so I may have to take a deeper route than someone else.

Are you still doing any catching or are you thinking no way do I need to take that risk after what I have been through the last few years.

Brett Bonvechio: I would love to catch if my knees could hold up, but no.

If I remember right you really enjoyed the mental part of catching.

Brett Bonvechio: Oh yeah, I love learning the game and how much you get to control things from back there. I told them if they ever need an emergency guy for a few innings, I'm their guy.

I've always thought you were one of the more intelligent interviews that we had but what happens if things don't work out and you aren't able to hook up with another organization? Do you come back here for another go around and keep trying until someone tears the jersey off of your back?

Brett Bonvechio: When I first found out that I wasn't going to get signed by an affiliated team I was pretty down for about a week. Do I keep doing this, is this for me? Then I woke up one day and thought this is what I want to do. Until someone pushes me out and tells me that I can't play anymore, you will find me playing somewhere.

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