Coming from an athletic family puts an immense amount of pressure on a person. Becoming successful in sports adds to that pressure. Failing to live up to the hype can cause the pressure to be crippling. Will Venable is not there yet. His performance over the past few seasons has been a tale of two players. He’s shown flashes of power, flashes of speed, and at times, flashes of both. But his batting average and on-base percentage have left much to be desired. At the age of 29, Venable may be feeling the pressure to finally put it all together and live up to expectations. It’s an unfair position to be in, but one that comes along with sports.
Will Venable’s athletic ability is genetic and hereditary. There’s no doubt about it. His father, Max Venable, played 12 major league seasons as an outfielder and a pinch-hitting specialist. His career line is .241/.302/.345. He hit just 18 home runs, drove in 128 runs, and collected 337 hits. But he never played in more than 108 games. Will’s brother Winston is currently a safety for the Chicago Bears. Winston, who is five years younger than Will, continues the athletic tradition started by their father. He played college football for Boise State and won the 2010 Fiesta Bowl.
As for Will, the praise for his talents, and the clear athletic ability he possessed made him a standout baseball recruit. He also thrived as a member of the Princeton Tigers basketball team. He helped lead the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances. Much like Tony Gwynn, Venable was recruited for his basketball abilities and did not play baseball his freshman year. Venable, at the gentle nudging of his father, gave baseball a shot and was – coming as no surprise to anyone – successful. He was drafted after his junior year by the Baltimore Orioles in the fifteenth round, but he and his family didn’t like the lack of value the Orioles placed on him.
Venable made the decision to return to college for his senior year rather than sign with the Orioles. He posted All-League honors that year which helped him bump his draft stock. The Padres took him eight rounds sooner than the Orioles originally did, and made Venable the 215th overall pick in the 2005 draft. Venable rewarded the decision with a solid A-ball performance, quick promotions, and a debut with the major league club in 2008.
Since his debut, Venable has increased his base stealing prowess, had up and down power years, and has been above average in his wRC+. However, he has also struck out more each season. In his debut year, with only 124 plate appearances, Venable struck out 16.9% of the time. In 2009, he struck out 27.5% of the time. In 2010 and 2011, he struck out 28.8% and 22.4% of the time respectively. His strike out numbers are severely limiting his potential, and the Padres know it.
Heading into spring, Venable is not a lock to start at any of the outfield positions. It’s likely he will earn a number one spot on the depth chart in right field, but as of right now he does not have that spot secured. He will be competing with Kyle Blanks and Chris Denorfia for playing time.
Venable is a victim of his college years. He spent all four years at Princeton and was older than most prospects when he entered the Padres system. Now, at 29, he is on the verge of passing his athletic prime. This may be his last chance to breakout and prove he should be a regular with the Padres.
Another year with 20+ stolen bases will help, but he must cut down on his strikeouts and hit for more power. Venable is the type of guy who should be able to be a 20/20 man or even a 25/25 man. 2012 may be the season in which all the pressures of the game must be pushed aside so that he can prove he is capable of these projections.