Matthew Lickona 2:43 p.m., June 19
Most people that follow baseball and are a particular fan of a team, will find a player to root for who is an underdog. The underdog will be someone who performs far above expectations, perhaps a player achieving that which he wasn't expected to achieve, or maybe the guy who is on the bubble to make the big league team. A case can be made that last year's Padres underdog was probably Jesús Guzmán, who toiled in the minors many years before being called up last season and leading the Padres in batting average and runs batted in.
Will Venable is making a case that he is this year's Padres underdog.
Venable is somewhat soft-spoken, even-tempered, very articulate, and his work ethic is excellent. But then, would anyone expect less of a Princeton graduate? Except that Venable didn't attend Princeton for its academic programs, even though he did graduate with a B. A. in Anthropology. Princeton recruited Venable for its basketball program.
Even though his father, Max Venable, had a successful career in baseball that spanned over a decade, Will was on the Princeton basketball team that went to the 2004 NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament. But under urging of Princeton's baseball coach, Will also played baseball at Princeton in the 2004 and 2005 seasons. He was drafted in the 7th round of the 2005 MLB draft by the Padres.
Will Venable excelled in the minors, his hitting, fielding, and speed were impressive and he climbed up through the ranks rapidly. Max Venable even coached his son as minor league affiliate Fort Wayne's batting coach. By 2008, Venable was in AAA, hoping for a September call-up once the major league rosters expanded, but due to injury on the 25-man roster, Will was called up in August. He tripled in his first at-bat.
Since 2008. Will Venable has shown flashes of brilliance. He has also endured awful slumps. To remain in the big leagues - even though every big-league player goes through a slump now and then - a player must show consistency, in that the average is more of the norm than are streaks and slides. The organization loves him. They have been waiting for the break-out year.
This year might need to be the break-out year, as Will Venable is now 29 years old.
So far, Venable is having a fine spring. Just yesterday he collected 3 hits and a stolen base in the lead-off spot. A few days ago, he belted a near-home run, robbed only by a high wall and some tricky wind, into the deepest part of the park off of Yu Darvish. The swing looks good. The speed is holding up. The fielding is always great.
Venable could be the underdog to root for this year, he's certainly making a case for it.
Thanks in part to Venable, the Padres beat the Cleveland Indians on Saturday, 5-2. Dustin Moseley made his second Cactus League start and was excellent, pitching 3 innings of 1 hit shutout ball, striking out 3 Indians. Juan Oramas pitched two innings, and Gregerson, Street, Cashner, and Vincent each worked an inning. The pitching staff appears to be settling in nicely.
Jesús Guzmán finally broke out of his funk and had two hits yesterday, and Yonder Alonso - also with two hits - continues to look good at the plate. What may be the most impressive early observation is the contributions of players that will still need some seasoning down in the minors after spring training in Arizona is finished. Rymer Liriano, for example, looks the part; a genuine big-leaguer in the making. He has an impressive bat and his fielding is outstanding - he reached two balls hit into right field that most on the roster likely wouldn't have snagged. Andy Parrino hit his first home run this spring.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett was in the lineup for the first time in Cactus League play on Saturday, going 0 for 3 and striking out once. Undoubtedly, there's some rust to brush off before he has an opportunity to get his timing back for live pitching. Cameron Maybin was held out as a precautionary measure, after suffering a slight shin injury on Friday. Still absent from the lineup was third baseman Chase Headley, but his first start of the spring could come as early as tomorrow. No word on outfielder Chris Denorfia's back, he's still day-to-day.
Sunday, Tim Stauffer will make his second Cactus League start hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks. Due to daylight savings time now in effect, times in Arizona will now coincide with PDST since most of Arizona does not change over. The game will start at 1:05 and will be televised on the MLB network and will be carried by radio on 1090 AM.
(Image: Will Venable)