September Call-Ups: Will Venable

WASHINTON DC: One of the more exciting Padres' prospects that is received a September tryout with the team is centerfielder Will Venable. Venable has exceeded everyone's expectations in his ability to consistently improve every season.

Most minor league pundits, including myself, have found various reasons to bet against Venable throughout his career; he didn't play baseball his senior year of high school or as a freshman in college; he had less than 400 at-bats as a Princeton Tiger; he struggled in short-season Eugene, was "old" for the league in Fort Wayne; he didn't hit with enough power in Double-A San Antonio and questions about his arm and ability to cover ground.

Venable has answered all of these questions and more this year and every year since he has been in the organization. He put up a solid year in Portland, hitting .292/.361/.464 and has performed even better since being called up to San Diego.

Will he be an everyday starter in 2009?

If the past were any predictor of the future, I wouldn't bet against it.

You had a very good season in Portland, especially for power compared to what you did last year in San Antonio. What did you do to improve so much in the power department?

Will Venable: I was more patient in the sense of what Grady Fuson has been trying to implement in the system, being patiently aggressive. It's something that is easier said than done. It's about not swinging at bad pitches and taking pitches for strikes that you know you can't do anything with. This year, I think I've been doing a better job of that and just going deeper into counts and waiting for balls that I could do damage with. It kind of came together for a little bit this year.

We did a pre-season preview in 2007 at Madfriars and we noted that Grady Fuson stated that he just wanted you to hit and not worry about power numbers in San Antonio. This past winter you worked with Jim Lefebvre and it seems like your movement in the batter's box has slowed down enabling you to drive the ball more in Portland this year.

Will Venable: When I started playing I somehow got a double-tap in my stride and it just wasn't working and limiting my power. It just turned into something that was more natural and not forced like my double-tap. It was just a question of being more comfortable and seeing the ball better.

In Fort Wayne I was able to see you and it seems you are just more comfortable in the box, which I assume comes after about fifteen hundred or more at-bats.

Will Venable: [laughs] Yeah, it is a long process. It's just something that has come together recently and is still a long way from being done. I've made strides in the right direction and hopefully will continue to do so.

I noticed when you ran in the outfield in Fort Wayne you kind of had a basketball gait, where you would take quick chop-steps before you got to full stride. Now, especially watching you in center, you seem to run more like a baseball player taking longer, faster strides. Did it take this amount of time to really get basketball out of your system because it had been such a big part of your life in high school and college?

Will Venable: I hadn't really thought about it, but that now you mention it, I have been trying to work on being more efficient in my routes, so yeah, that could have been part of it. I've been trying to get to the point of you know where you want to go and try to get into that stride as quick as possible.

In San Antonio, you played some center field and didn't look that comfortable out there, but everyone I've spoken with this year has just raved about how well you have played in center this year in Portland. Was it more of a question that going into the season you knew you were going to play center and just got comfortable?

Will Venable: Yeah, you know I was in a situation where my first season I was in left in Fort Wayne, the next year in San Antonio I was in right and this year I was in center. Center is actually the easiest to play once you are aware of what is going on. Mainly it was just a learning curve and knowing that I was going to be out there every day went a long way in making me more comfortable.

You played center in college?

Will Venable: [laughs] Yeah, I did, but that seems so long ago, and I really don't think I was much of an outfielder then either. It was one of those things where playing every day really helps you learn much more quickly.

One of the things that I was always been impressed with is that you seem to make these gigantic jumps every off-season. So many minor league pundits, and unfortunately I fall into this category as well, will look at what you did in Fort Wayne and say he did well but he's "old" for the league and there is no way he can jump to Double-A, and you did it. Then you get knocked for your power and defense and you put up a great year. How do you improve so much every off-season?

Will Venable: It's just one of those things where I am still learning so much it helps me to have some time off and reflect on what I need to do to get better. I've almost felt sometimes that I've gotten better in the off-season when I'm not even playing but just thinking about the game. Thinking about what I can do better and then having a chance to play in places like the Hawaiian Fall League and the Arizona Fall League last year. This year, I'm going to the Dominican League and hopefully I'll be able to keep it up.

When you play 140 games it seems like it's kind of tough to really consolidate changes during the season, so does the off-season allow you to make the changes you need too?.

Will Venable: Yeah, the off-season is so big in making adjustments, especially if you are in a place like the Fall League. You are not going to be picked apart on every at-bat and it gives you a chance to fine-tune your game.

There was a quote you made at the beginning of the year in the ‘San Diego Union Trebune' where you said as you go higher in the system you realize how much more of a skill game baseball is than basketball. The way I've always thought about it is that you don't see many out of shape NBA point guards but you see some baseball players that aren't in the best of shape but they can do so many things on the field people that are more athletic can't do.

Will Venable: Athleticism will take you a long way in this game but there is so much to learn as far as fundamentals and the skill level required to compete. It's about using your brain, eyes, and hands, and finding a way to bring it all together.

As much work as it is now for you, in some ways it's kind of easier than what you went through in college, playing two sports and getting though Princeton academically?

Will Venable: I don't want to say it's easier. It started out tough at Princeton, it started out tough in the minors and it's been tough in the big leagues.

How tough is it as a baseball fan not to kind of get caught up in the moment? Suddenly you are out on the field and you are playing against someone like Manny Ramirez.

Will Venable: It's crazy when you step back and look at it but to compete up here you have to be so locked in it doesn't really enter into your mind. I'm aware of what is going on, but I'm not caught up in the mystique of who is on the other side. You know, the first series we were playing against Colorado, and I thought ‘that is Matt Holliday and he is the truth' but you know after a moment you got to back to what you are trying to do.

What is the biggest thing you need to do to stay at this level?

Will Venable: Everything, just a continual improvement of everything. I have to stay aggressive on the bases; I haven't stolen any bases yet. I have to continue to work on my arm strength and continue to get good jumps on the ball. You name it; I need to work on it.

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