Observations from the Weekend

First off, if your #2 hitter lays down a sacrifice bunt in the first inning — as Luis Rodriguez did on Friday night — then you probably need to find another #2 hitter. Second, for as indifferent as I generally am to the stolen base, it disturbs me that Willy Taveras has more than twice as many by himself this year than does the entire Padres roster. (It also astounds me that Taveras has so many steals despite being a useless hitter — and people scoff at the notion of there being a continued need for Tony Womack’s skill set.)

Anyway, it was fun to watch the kids play. Fun in the sense that our team is going nowhere and there are still games left on the schedule so we might as well enjoy them, but fun nonetheless. To the observations…

Will Venable

Venable made his big-league debut on Friday, getting the start in center field, and pounded a triple off the right-field wall in his first at-bat. It’s only one at-bat, but he gave a nice demonstration of why some folks are more excited about him than I am:

  • He drove a ball hard against Aaron Cook. For all of his faults (how can you throw 95 mph and not strike anyone out?), Cook doesn’t give up many well struck balls like that. Granted, it was an 86 mph breaking pitch, thigh-high on the inner half, but still… As Matt Vasgersian noted, that ball is a homer in about 28 other ballparks.
  • He’s a tremendously athletic kid — like Chris Young, a former Princeton hoopster — and it shows. Midway between first and second, when he saw the ball carom away from Brad Hawpe, Venable kicked into another gear. He took a beautiful turn at second and generally made running the bases look effortless — in stark contrast to pretty much everyone else on this team.

On Saturday, I got to see him in person and again, he impressed. The box score shows that Venable went 1-for-4 with 2 RBI, but it doesn’t show probably the single most important thing he did in the game.

In the third inning, after he’d driven in the Padres’ first run, Venable took out Colorado second baseman Clint Barmes on what would have been an inning-ending double play off the bat of Edgar Gonzalez. A run scored, and then Ubaldo Jimenez self-destructed (in a manner eerily similar to his April 15 start at Petco Park), surrendering four more before being lifted.

I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’ve underestimated Venable. Again, we’re talking about an extremely small sample, but he looks like a better player than his numbers indicate — what that portends, we cannot say.

Still, it’s worth noting that guys like Mike Devereaux and ex-Padre Gary Matthews Jr. didn’t reach the big leagues until their mid-20s; both were pretty athletic and ended up having decent careers. At age 25, Venable may not have much untapped potential, but it’s hardly a stretch to think that he could have a career similar to those of Devereaux and Matthews.

Dirk Hayhurst

Hayhurst’s final line (4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 4 SO) was awful, but I saw some things I liked. First, the bad news:

  • His command was terrible. Nobody should ever need 101 pitches to get through four innings.
  • He left a curve out over the plate to Garrett Atkins in the third, and Atkins just crushed it.

As he demonstrated in rather convincing fashion in his second big-league start, Hayhurst has zero margin for error. That said, he’s got some game:

  • Channel 4SD had his fastball at 89-91 mph (with good sinking action according to my eye — a little like Clay Hensley in that regard), his curve at 74-78.
  • He did a good job working both sides of the plate. Sometimes kids just up from the minors are reluctant to pitch inside to guys they’ve seen on television; this absolutely was not a problem for Hayhurst.
  • When he’s not hanging it to good hitters, the curve looks like a legitimate out pitch; I’m guessing this is what gave guys at Triple-A fits.
  • The two hits he allowed ahead of Atkins’ homer were complete flukes. The first came on a 3-2 fastball up and in that shattered Barmes’ bat and resulted in a weak grounder to third; Kevin Kouzmanoff made a terrific barehanded pickup, but his throw bounced, skipping off Adrian Gonzalez’s glove and into the third row. The second came on a 1-2 breaking ball to Taveras. The pitch crossed the plate at shin level, outer half, and somehow Taveras managed to nine-iron it down the right-field line. The video is inconclusive, but I think his back foot may have been off the ground when he made contact. Whatever the case, it was ugly and certainly shouldn’t have resulted in any outcome that rewards the batter.

Josh Geer

Like Hayhurst, Geer was inefficient, needing 105 pitches to get through five innings. The stadium scoreboard had his fastball at 86-88 mph, and it didn’t appear to have a lot of movement. Geer also had trouble commanding his secondary pitches.

In the past I’ve compared Geer, based on his statistical record in the minors, to Justin Germano. After seeing him in person, I’ll throw out another name that will be familiar to those who have followed the club in recent years: Ismael Valdez.

Geer looks to me like a potential #5 starter. His stuff is underwhelming, which means his command has to be perfect. Unlike with Hayhurst, I didn’t see an out pitch from Geer. Maybe he has one, but I didn’t see it.

On another note, have you noticed how inefficient the Padres starters have been lately? I have, and it bugs me:

Hayhurst, Aug 23 @ SF: 4 IP, 76 pitches
Josh Banks, Aug 24 @ SF: 3 IP, 53 pitches
Jake Peavy, Aug 25 vs Ari: 6 IP, 121 pitches
Chad Reineke, Aug 26 vs Ari: 5 IP, 93 pitches
Cha Seung Baek, Aug 27 vs Ari: 5.2 IP, 104 pitches
Hayhurst, Aug 29 vs Col: 4 IP, 101 pitches
Geer, Aug 30 vs Col: 5 IP, 105 pitches

That’s about 20 pitches per inning over seven starts, which is unacceptable. Actually, so is a rotation of Hayhurst, Banks/Geer, Reineke, and Baek, but what can you do?

Well, first you can have Peavy fan 13 Rockies over eight innings. Then you can release Brett Tomko and call up Wade LeBlanc (he’s scheduled to start on Wednesday in Los Angeles; and oh yeah, Matt Antonelli is joining the big club as well — congrats to him!). Then you can welcome Young back to the rotation and watch him square off against former teammate Greg Maddux on Monday.

It’s all very confusing…

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21 Responses »

  1. Glad to see you are finally warming on Venable. I’ve loved his play since seeing him in Fort Wayne. If he makes the club, I guess that means Max Venable will be SD’s hitting coach next year since they’ve been together his whole career :) . I’m not real optimistic about Hayhurst and Geer, but I hope I’m wrong and both put it together. Thanks for sharing your observations. I’m looking forward to seeing Antonelli and LeBlanc – though I expected more out of both this year.

  2. Geer’s out pitch is his ‘bugs bunny’ change up, but it sounds like it wasn’t working. When his change up is on he makes guys look absolutely foolish. I’ve watched some guys take some horrible cuts on his change up. And according to Josh, that’s what got him noticed with the Padres is that change.

    As far as Dirk goes, he shouldn’t be starting. Yes he made some spot starts in Portland, but he’s best used out of the pen. Putting him in the rotation is setting him up to fail – and I for one would rather see him succeed not fail.

  3. Congrats to Antonelli and LeBlanc. Despite his troubles this year, I’m glad to see Antonelli with the big club. Hopefully this can rejuvenate his bat. I’d love to see him win the 2B job next year.

  4. This comment was really intended for a previous post regarding the FO and the state of our farm system, but we had the comments blackout and it is at least somewhat related to this thread.

    I’ll start out by saying I am a Padres fan and have been for 40 years.

    Do you know how many position players (non-pitchers) the Padres’ farm system has produced that are currently big league regular starters? Not just with SD, but anywhere? By the most charitable of measures, the number is THREE. Greene, Nady, Matthews, Jr. That’s the list. That’s all. And I’m not talking about All-Stars, just regulars. And if you eliminate them, who is the last guy before them is Roberto Alomar! (Okay, Sean Burroughs started for a couple of years, but . . . )

    That’s a really sad record over a couple of decades of development. Sure, KT has done wonders with trades and that’s produced a good team for the past few years, but we have got to do better with our drafting and developing. I really hope that this current crop is as good as Fuson and company have been telling us.

  5. It’s good to be back, thanks Geoff

    Geer I have more faith in because he’s been successful at lower levels and I don’t think its impossible to suggest he was nervous. What we saw out there really goes against his MO – so I’d at least like to give him another chance out there before getting concerned. Hayhurst, I’m sorry I see none of those positives in there and he has got to go. Two straight performances of the same poor play rather concerns me. Venerable I’m impressed with, I wonder with his athleticism if he could be a decent lead off hitter?

    Looking forward to seeing Antonelli and LeBlanc up, though I’m sure there’s alot of people in AAA and AA swearing up and down that a guy who had such a poor year was brought up with the big team (I know why he was I’m just saying)

  6. I’m fine with promoting Antonelli for September, despite his struggles in AAA, but does he really deserve to be promoted to the starting lineup ahead of Edgar? This is the implication in the UT. Edgar is still the Rodney Dangerfield of mlb. He deserves at least an ersatz platoon for the rest of the season.

  7. 2nd Row,

    I put up a list a few days ago on my site of lower level hitters who are coming:

    http://padresrundown.blogspot.com/2008/08/padres-milb-august-27-players-of-day.html

    And my comment from the post:

    “Obviously each one of these hitters is not a premium prospect and they won’t each pan out, but there is so much talent there; they won’t each miss either.”

    Obviously the big league club isn’t doing well but the organization is as strong as it has EVER been…

    Using younger current big leaguers and minor league players it’s pretty easy to envision the following starting lineup:

    C Headley/Canham
    1B A. Gonzalez
    2B Antonelli or Sogard
    3B Headley or Kouzmanoff
    SS Cumberland/Aristy/Galvez/Valdez (weakest position)
    LF Headley/Decker/Dykstra/Huffman
    CF Venable/Hunter
    RF Kulbacki/Decker

    SP1 Peavy
    SP2 Young
    SP3 Carrillo
    SP4 LeBlanc
    SP5 Schmidt

    Cl Latos/Bell

    And that implies zero trade and zero free agent acquisitions (neither is accurate).

    This organization is strong. It’s a good time to be a Padres fan.

  8. The Padres Lost Season of 2008 has a silver lining in that they get to see so many players at the upper levels of their minor league system that they wouldn’t have seen if they were contenders.

    Maybe because they have the same build and both are lefthanded, Venable reminds me of David Justice. Though Justice came up to the majors 2 years earlier than Venable, his numbers in the minors were not as good.

  9. #5@Loren: Venable either hit third or fifth in the Beavers line up all year and I think he’d be more suited for that part of the line up.

    He has some speed, but I don’t think he has the patience to be a lead off guy.

  10. In the past I’ve agreed with you completely on Geer. His minor league track peripherals are unimpressive and based on them and scouting reports on his stuff, I’m skeptical he can contribute as more than an emergency starter. I didn’t see the game Saturday, so I’m just going off Gameday, and I wasn’t able to form an opinion of his stuff. But all that being said, he got 13 swinging strikes in 5 innings. That’s Peavy-esque. That part of his start was very impressive, so I think it’s tough to conclude after that that he doesn’t have the stuff to get big league hitters to swing and miss. It’s still just one start, and his first one in the majors, so it’s obviously way too soon to draw any conclusions from that performance.

    I too have enjoyed watching Venable and think he could develop into an average regular for a couple of years.

  11. #6@Mike Champion: You have to get a good look at MA, though. You know what you’ve got in Edgar — a decent utility player with a pretty good stick. MA is kind of an unknown. But if he has a good month (and maybe a good spring) — then they don’t have to worry about the 2b position next year. They’ll have Matt, and Edgar can be someone who comes off the bench.

  12. Both teams bunted in the first inning on Friday night, yet neither scored. Geeze I love small ball. Night after night I watch teams bunt then not score, while listening to Padre fans and broadcasters screaming to bunt, bunt, and bunt. Where do people get the idea that a sacrifice bunt is somehow the magical route, to scoring runs?

  13. 12: I don’t understand either.
    We are last in NL based on OPS with RISP, 2 out. With runners on, or RISP, the numbers are about the same. However, we are last in scoring in all three situation so I suppose we don’t really lose anything.

    Of course, the thinking process that leads to those decisions is questionable.
    On Wednesday, with the Snakes ahead by one, OG got on base and Luis “the Splendid Bunter” Rodriguez sacrificed to move OG into scoring position. Well, it worked out in the inning as the Padres scored plenty or runs to get ahead.

    Luis “the Splendid Bunter” Rodriguez was playing 1B that day and so, Pepe Negro used Adrian Gonzalez as a defensive substitution in the top of the next inning. I was pretty confused as Adrian is wielding a better bat than “the Splendid Bunter” but yet he was not at bat with OG on and nobody out in the previous inning. Are we really that scared of Adrian putting more GiDP to his name?

    re: Antonelli. I hope he gets plenty of ABs up here to get used to facing ML pitching, if for nothing else, to prove to himself that he belongs and he can improve his skills accordingly.

  14. #4@2nd row in the Porch: Yeah, there have been a lot of disappointments over the years. I think you’ll like what you see from the current crop. I do.

    #10@Ben B.: Thanks for the 13 swinging strike stat. That is both impressive and shocking. He looked like he had nothing from where I was sitting. Maybe he’ll do okay; every once in a great while, Bob Tewksbury happens.

  15. Very encouraging to finally see so many homegrown players on the team. Plain and simple, the drafting was terrible for a very long time. Grady Fuson has really got them going in the right direction with the last few drafts, starting with Headley, Antonelli, Hundley, and Venable. And in my opinion, the best is yet to come. I think Kulbacki, Hunter, and 4 or 5 guys from the ’08 draft have a chance to be impact players in the big leagues. Although it’s been a brutal season, I haven’t ever been this encouraged by the farm system. Ther are good times ahead for the Pads.

    While Antonelli has had a very disappointing season, it’s important to note that he is at .269/.377/.425 since the all-star break. Still not great, but he hasn’t been bad for a few months now.

    Anyone else notice how Kyle Blanks has surpassed Chase Headley’s numbers from last season in which he was the MVP season of the Texas League? And he’s only 21! Chase was 23.

  16. Wow, it’s great to be back! This is by far the best place to keep up to date with Padres news, both MLB and MiLB.

    Any idea who the rest of the 5 callups are? Antonelli and LeBlanc are two, I assume Carlin is the third…who else?