First of all let me first congratulate “Mr. Padre” Tony Gwynn and his family on the news of his successful 14-hour cheek surgery. I hope your recovery is speedy and you require no more surgical procedures in the future, Mr. Gwynn. Also, good luck with the Aztecs this Spring/Summer.
Anyway, there will be many Spring Training story-lines to go over after the Padres start pouring into Peoria next week, and there is still one position where playing time might be up in the air. As I was reading through Padres’ Beat Writer Corey Brock’s answers to fans’ questions on the Padres’ team website, he was asked about what the Padres are going to do with the Right Field position in 2012. With three options to choose from, it should be one of the most interesting positional battles us fans see this Spring. Thus, I thought it would be a good idea to do a short breakdown on each of the candidates, what they bring to the Padres, what they need to do this Spring to secure the job, and what ultimately I think will happen.
In terms of overall talent and a long-term solution at the position, Will Venable should have the inside track to gaining the edge as the Padres everyday RF in 2012 and beyond. Venable’s got solid speed (55 total SB’s last two seasons), great pop for a leadoff man (especially when half the games are at Petco) (34 HR’s total last three seasons), and plays excellent Defense as a Corner Outfielder. All signs should be pointing to Venable being the everyday leadoff man and everyday Right Fielder?
However, Venable’s Walk totals are low (76 total last two seasons), his Strikeout totals are higher than they should be (220 total the last two seasons) his OBP was .310 in 2011 (down from .324 in 2010), his Batting Average leaves much to be desired (.245 in 2010 and .246 in 2011), and he hit a dismal .174 against Left Handed pitching in his 46 At-Bats.
When you combine the good and the bad, 2012 breaks down to one thing for the Padres and Venable. This season is a make or break year for Will to start producing at the high level the organization believes he can. At 6’2″ 205 lbs. with athletic talent to spare, Venable is now 29 years of age and beginning to earn a salary of close to $1.5 million this season. If Venable has a strong Spring and can up his Offensive output in terms of OBP, BA, and Walks, while maintaining his Defensive play, San Diego should be set. But if Venable’s production doesn’t increase, and the only numbers that do end up increasing are his high Strikeout totals, the Padres might be looking in a different direction for a Right Fielder of the future.
In terms of raw power, Kyle Blanks has bar none the most on the Padres’ roster. The guy can hit absolute moon-shots when he gets the bat on the ball, and is San Diego’s most potent Home Run threat whenever he steps in the batters box.
Blanks was going to be the next “big thing” for the Padres after hitting 10 HR’s in 148 AB’s in 2009. However an elbow injury cost Blanks most of the 2010 season and almost all of the 2011 season as well. Now instead of being the everyday First Baseman or starting at a Corner Outfield spot, Blanks will have to fight for playing time in Right this Spring with Quentin and Alonso slated to take over in Left Field and First Base.
As I stated before, what Blanks really brings to the Padres is his power. In terms of the rest of his skill set, his production has been severely lacking in the parts of the last three seasons. Like Venable, Blanks has suffered from a high Strikeout to Walk (152 to 49 career) ratios, a low OBP (.315 in 2011), and low Batting Averages (.219 career) throughout his Major League stints (420 total AB’s).
Blanks will have to work hard this Spring to get some quality playing time in Right Field. Unseating Will Venable won’t be easy, but if Blanks can keep improving his plate discipline and continue to supply power, he could eventually step in as a platoon option if Venable begins to struggle against Left Handed Pitching.
In his answer to the fan’s email, Brock brought up the possibility of “Utility Man Deluxue” Jesus Guzman getting some reps in Right Field this season. And the more I considered the prospect of Guzman working out there, the more I liked it.
The main reason I say that Guzman could be an option in Right Field is that he needs At Bats, plain and simple. Last season, Guzman emerged as the Padres most consistent hitter. His stat line of: .312 BA, .369 OBP, 22 2B’s, 5 HR’s, and 44 RBI’s in 247 AB’s was terrific, and if it wasn’t for Cameron Maybin’s solid year-round season, Guzman would have likely earned himself 2011 Team MVP honors.
While I’m not advocating Guzman to be the every-day RF, I am lobbying for him to at least be considered a legit shot to play there every once and a while in case the starter needs a rest or Venable struggles with Lefties.
Because he is such a versatile player, Guzman can be shuttled around the diamond (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF) to get At-Bats, and Right Field could be one of the positions he plays every so often to help the Padres’ Offense.
While Guzman doesn’t have a heck of a lot of experience playing in Right Field (4 Innings total in the Majors), it would likely take a bit of time during the Spring to get him used to playing out there. But because he is such a “jack-of-all-trades” player, it wouldn’t worry me in the least to see him playing 20 or so games in Right where he wouldn’t be a defensive liability.
It is going to be an extremely meaningful Spring for Will Venable, Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman. As I stated previously, Venable should have the “inside track” to receiving a majority of the playing time and the most At Bats. If he can fulfill the expectations set for him, he should have the position on lock-down by the end of Spring and throughout the year.
Yet if Venable struggles (especially against Left Handed Pitching), Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman will be asked to step in and do what is necessary to shore up the Right Field position. With playing time on the line, Blanks and Guzman will jump at the chance to get meaningful AB’s and find a positional “home” with San Diego.
I’ve stated my thoughts, now it’s your turn readers. What do you see happening in Right Field this season? Let me know in the “Comments” section.
Follow me on Twitter (@DominicDiTolla)