Padres prospects getting long looks
Venable, Denker among those seeing lots of playing time
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Brian Giles has a strained quadriceps and hasn't played in week. Scott Hairston isn't even in camp, as he's off preparing to play for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
But even with the absence of Giles and Hairston, the Padres would still be sending a lot of playing time the way of outfielders Drew Macias and Will Venable, as well as at-bats and innings the way of infielders Travis Denker and Everth Cabrera.
Whereas in years past players like Macias and Venable have been used late in games as pinch-hitters or pinch-runners, they're seeing considerable playing time early in Cactus League games, as the Padres are in full evaluation mode.
"It's been great. The last couple years, you are kind of sitting around and waiting to get an opportunity to play," Venable said. "Now, just to get out there and get [at-bats] this early ... it's just going to help me more once the season gets started."
In that sense, giving players like Venable -- who entered Friday's game against Colorado with a team-high 17 at-bats -- and Denker (15 at-bats), Cabrera and Macias (each with 12 at-bats) playing time early on is helping manager Bud Black develop opinions of who can do what.
Macias (right field), Denker (third base) and Cabrera (shortstop) were all in the lineup on Friday against the Rockies.
"This is a performance game," Black said. "It's a good test for these guys. As I told them, whether it's a Spring Training or not, it's a message I sent two years ago ... we're playing a certain way to win. We take guys out halfway through [a game], but that doesn't mean the game stops. That means it's your turn to step in."
Venable is trying to win a job as a reserve outfielder with the Padres, which might be a tough task since Giles, Chase Headley, Jody Gerut and Hairston figure to command the majority of playing time this season.
Venable, who hit .264 with two home runs in a 28-game trial in September with San Diego, is hitting .294 during the spring. Venable, who played college basketball and baseball for Princeton, is 26, but Black says there's still upside to his game.
"I see a very athletic player ... able to play anywhere in the outfield," he said. "[He's] getting his hits, having good at-bats. With him, I think there's a lot of room for upside. He's got a great aptitude. He'll figure things out."
Macias, who turns 26 on Saturday, is another player the Padres like. Last season, Macias hit .266 with 11 home runs and 66 RBIs in 2008 at Double-A San Antonio and is a player general manager Kevin Towers likes and wanted to promote last season.
"His total game is underrated because you're talking about other players," Black said.
But having the chance to play in front of Black, Towers and the rest of the front office staff this spring is all Macias could ask for. That's something he is trying to make the best of.
"It's good to get an opportunity to play enough where they can see you play and make some plays and showcase what you can do," Macias said. "I'm looking to take advantage of that and open some eyes.
"It's great to get some more playing time and seize the moment."
Cabrera, a Rule 5 Draft pickup in December from the Rockies, is a player who intrigues the Padres. The 22-year-old hasn't played a game above the Class A level, but led all of professional baseball in stolen bases (73) last season.
He's made two errors this spring, which doesn't necessarily bother Black. He likes the footwork, speed and the upside Cabrera has. He has to stick on the roster all season or he'll be offered back to the Rockies, who hated to lose him in the first place.
"He's just got to clean up some things defensively," Black said. "I'm sure he's trying to impress. The skills are there. I think he gets ahead of himself sometimes."
Denker is in the mix for a reserve job as an infielder. There's currently a glut of second baseman on the roster, so Denker has been playing a lot of third base. The Padres will likely choose two reserve infielders from a group that includes Chris Burke, Edgar Gonzalez, Denker and Cabrera.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.