Nothing attracts attention quite like a circus sideshow. Luckily for the Yanks, they have their very own baseball oddity pitching in Charleston. His name is Pat Venditte, and as most RAB readers know, he is in professional baseball’s only switch-pitcher.
I’ve always been intrigued with Venditte and so have our readers. In fact, Joe’s short post with a video of the switch-pitching/switch-hitting conflict remains RAB’s most popular. The Yankees too have long liked Venditte. They drafted him in back-to-back years, and novelty aside, he is putting up some eye-opening numbers at Charleston.
As the Charleston closer this year, he is 2-1 with 0.64 ERA in 25 games. He has 20 saves and has an astounding 38:1 K:BB ratio. Now, Venditte is 24, far too old for the Sally League, and was a 20-round draft pick last year. The expectations for him are clearly not too high.
This weekend, Alan Schwarz profiled Venditte. While much of the earlier coverage has focused around Venditte’s ambidexterity, Schwarz looked instead at his baseball future. While we love Pat, the Yankees and scouts aren’t as high on the lefty-righty.
National news organizations travel to Charleston, S.C., to revel in his uniqueness. Fans see his statistics and dream of matchup mayhem. But experienced talent evaluators see not just one underwhelming fastball, but two. Sorry, kid.
“It’s fair to have some skepticism,” said Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president for baseball operations. “The uniqueness only has value in terms of how it translates into getting big-league hitters out. This isn’t a freak show, it’s a get-hitters-out show. We’re looking for New York impact — not Charleston impact.”
Scrooge as it may sound, Newman’s outlook would be shared by most professional scouts. South Atlantic League history is strewn with right-handers who thrive with 87-mile-per-hour fastballs like Venditte’s. His left-handed stuff is roundly (if not flatteringly) described as slop. Just because it is all thrown by the same guy does not mean it will not get hammered at higher levels.
Venditte doesn’t let the negative assessments get to him though. “I know I’m not a big prospect,” he said to Schwarz. “I have to work my way into becoming someone who the organization sees as maybe one day helping the big club. I’m just happy to have a job. No one here knows where they’re going to be next year or next week. You have to look at it as you’re playing a game for a living, and enjoy it while it lasts.”
That last quote sounds as though it came from the Nuke LaLoosh/Crash Davis School of Talking to Reporters. But anyway, Schwarz delves deeper into the Yanks’ organizational approach to relief pitchers as well:
The Yankees have not promoted Venditte this season because they prefer giving higher-level relief innings to hard-throwing pitchers they believe have higher potential: Kevin Whelan and Mike Dunn at Class AA Trenton, and Adam Olbrychowski and Tim Norton at Class A Tampa. Newman said, “You’re trying to keep these balls in the air, and big tools usually trump lesser tools plus performance.”
…After he earned his 20th save Wednesday night by pitching for the sixth time in nine nights, a scout evaluating him said: “You look at him as a little short. But I’m wondering why he’s still here.”
Newman acknowledged that at some point, perhaps when Charleston’s first half ends later this month, the Yankees will have to find out if Venditte can retire more mature hitters.
I side with that scout. Night after night, Venditte pops up in Mike’s Down on the Farm recaps, and night after night, I wonder why the wait. Venditte is old with amazing peripherals. His ceiling could be AA or it could be as a journeyman relievers. It’s certainly higher than Charleston, and at 24, Venditte isn’t getting younger. The Yanks might as well push the Venditte novelty act as far as it can go.
Photo by Pat Venditte courtesy of Hilton Flores/Staten Island Advance.