By JAY LeBLANC
September 22, 2008
Before Pat Venditte came along, the short-season Class A debut of a 20th-round draft pick had never been featured on SportsCenter. But then again, an ambidextrous pitcher and a switch-hitter had never engaged in a battle of wills in a pro game, either. That’s exactly what happened on June 21, when Ralph Henriquez of the New York-Penn League’s Brooklyn Cyclones stepped up to bat against Venditte, who was attempting to close out a win for the Staten Island Yankees.
Henriquez and Venditte played a game of cat-and-mouse for several minutes with Venditte moving his six-fingered, double-webbed glove from hand to hand as Henriquez walked back and forth between batter’s boxes. After both managers pleaded their cases, the home plate umpire ordered Henriquez to choose a side. He chose to bat right-handed and Venditte - pitching right-handed - struck him out to end the game (you can check out the YouTube clip of the entire at bat by clicking here). On July 3, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation issued a new rule to prevent such a situation from arising again. Not surprisingly, it’s unofficially referred to as the “Pat Venditte Rule.”
Lost in all the hoopla about Venditte’s unique switch-pitching ability is that he’s actually really good. As a junior at Creighton University in 2007, the 6’ 1”, 180-pound former walk-on went 8-2 with four saves, a 1.88 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 95 2/3 innings to earn Second-Team All-America honors. The New York Yankees drafted him in the 45th round of the 2007 draft, but he chose to return to school for his senior year and went 9-3 with seven saves, a 3.34 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings. Venditte was dominant in his pro debut, saving 23 games, posting a 0.83 ERA and fanning 42 batters in 32 2/3 innings to earn New York-Penn League Mid-Season All-Star honors.
It remains to be seen whether Venditte will prove effective enough against advanced hitters to join Greg Harris as the only ambidextrous pitchers in Major League Baseball since 1900, but he’s certainly off to a good start. Unlike Harris - who alternated arms only in his last-ever big-league appearance - Venditte’s switch-pitching ability is more than a novelty act. Though he hits the low 90s right-handed and works in the 70s from the left side, his left-handed slider was good enough to hold lefty batters to a .098 average this season (righties hit .136 against him). I recently had a chance to speak to the 23-year-old:
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Yankees? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: No, I didn’t have too much contact with them throughout the year. A few days before the draft they called me, and I was kind of surprised, but I’m very grateful to be with them now.
Q: Growing up, did your coaches encourage your switch-pitching, or did you sometimes face resistance?
A: There was no resistance growing up, and I was very fortunate to have that. My coaches were very supportive all the way throughout.
Q: Most switch-hitters are stronger from one side than the other. Is that the case for you on the mound?
A: You know, I am stronger from my right side. I throw fairly harder, and because of that I have to rely more on locating my fastball and especially locating my off-speed pitches from the left side.
Q: Could you talk about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them? And does the arm you’re throwing with affect that?
A: From the right side I throw over the top all the time with a fastball, curveball and occasional changeup. From the left I drop down to a sidearm angle and predominantly throw sliders. I’ve just been sticking with that and you know, occasionally I’ll go to a fastball, but it’s predominantly sliders from the left side.
Q: How did you find a glove you could use on either hand? They don’t sell those at Modell’s.
A: (Laughs) My dad faxed the Mizuno company when I was seven. He had traced my hand and he just faxed the imprint of my hand over there, and two or three months later I had a glove.
Q: To what do you attribute your immediate success as a pro?
A: I’ve been keeping the ball down in the zone. I’ve been very fortunate so far; it’s been a good season so far, but I’ve still got a lot more work to do.
Q: Any plans for fall ball or winter ball?
A: No, I’ve got to go back to finish school. I’ve got my homework here already, so yeah, classes have already started and I’ve got 18 more credit hours to graduate, so I’ll be done in December.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Yankees?
A: (Laughs) That’s a ways off. I’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll see what happens.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves.