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03/14/11 4:32 PM ET

Time has come for Venable to produce

PEORIA, Ariz. -- By age and by Major League service time, Will Venable can no longer be considered a "young" player, meaning that his progression as a player has reached the point where he needs to either sink or swim.

"You spent that first season trying to get your feet wet. You then spend the second season trying to establish yourself as a big leaguer," Venable said last week. "After that, though, there's not a whole lot left to do other than produce."

That's why this season is a big one for the 28-year-old Padres outfielder, who is entering his second full Major League season after he appeared in 123 games during parts of 2008 and 2009 before finally sticking as a starter a year ago.

Venable is, in a sense, a lot like catcher Nick Hundley and third baseman Chase Headley, homegrown players who essentially reached the Major League level at the same time and have suffered the same kind of growing pains.

This year, Venable said, needs to be different.

"I need to produce ... and be one of the guys the team can count on to be dependable," he said.

The Padres feel Venable is close to narrowing the gap between potential and ability, as he took a step forward a year ago when he showed some power (13 home runs), speed on the bases (29 steals, an 81 percent success rate) and that he's capable of being a plus defender wherever he plays in the outfield (career UZR of 17.3).

All that's missing, it seems, is Venable's consistency with the bat, which is why he spent the offseason -- and his time here in Arizona -- assiduously working on his set-up, stance and swing.

"I feel I'm getting my swing in a comfortable spot where I can be more consistent. I just need to put myself in a position where I can come through every night. Last year, there were too many stretches where that didn't happen," Venable said.

"I think that a big part of my progression is going to be allowing myself to be successful each night."

To that end, Venable has shortened his stride and worked on getting a shorter path to the ball than he had before. He's also tried to eliminate collapsing on his back leg, which led to problems a year ago, especially against left-handed pitchers when he hit .154.

"I think he's got better balance, better rhythm and most importantly, he's got a better path to the baseball," Padres hitting coach Randy Ready said. "Even on his takes, he is staying upright and getting a better look at the baseball."

The Padres would like to use Venable -- who is hitting .292 in spring with a .400 on-base percentage -- in the leadoff spot. Venable is a career .299 hitter in 117 at-bats at the top of the order and has shown he is willing to take a walk.

But the Padres want him to cut down on his 29.9 percent career strikeout rate. That rate at the Minor League level was 20 percent, leading the Padres to believe there's no reason he can't cut down on his strikeouts.

Now it's time to prove Venable can do it.

"There's a learning curve for all players ... some guys get it easier. I think that Will is still improving," San Diego manager Bud Black said. "Now it's time to hopefully put it all together to display all of his talents."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.