10/29/08 10:00 AM ET
Venditte the best from every angle
Ambidextrous closer earns MiLBY for Best Short-Season Reliever
By Danny Wild / MLB.com
The Yankees prospect made his unassuming professional debut back in June, and within moments, he became the buzz of the baseball universe.
"It was a little crazy," said Venditte of his SportsCenter introduction to pro ball. "Especially for a 20th rounder, to get that attention. I don't know that it was warranted, but it was crazy to see."
By now, most fans have heard about the Omaha, N.E. native -- he has a knack for pitching with both arms. And although that's quite an impressive feat, it had nothing to do with him winning a MiLBY for Best Short-Season Reliever.
The Creighton University alum finished his rookie campaign 1-0 with an 0.83 ERA and a New York-Penn League-leading 23 saves, allowing just three earned runs in 30 games with Class A Short-Season Staten Island. Venditte, however, couldn't believe the news.
"This is something my teammates would pull," Venditte laughed after hearing he'd won the award. "But I definitely didn't expect it. It's definitely an honor. I'm very fortunate, and it was a good experience for the summer."
Yankees fans could hardly believe it either when they saw Venditte's highlights making the rounds of evening news shows. The 23-year-old made his debut on June 19 against Brooklyn and memorably faced off against Cyclones switch-hitter Ralph Henriquez. Venditte switched hands, and Henriquez crossed to the other batter's box. Venditte switched back and... the rest is history.
"It was a little out of the ordinary," said Venditte, who saw a new rule created to establish order in future similar situations. "But they figured it out, and we don't have to deal with those situations anymore."
Venditte's overnight fame (there are over 20 videos about him on YouTube) doesn't overshadow the pure domination he showed this summer. He struck out 42 in 32 2/3 innings, allowed just two home runs and held batters to a .117 average.
"The big thing was keeping the ball down in the zone," said Venditte, who did not allow a run in his last 17 appearances. "That's where I got hurt in the past, giving up the long ball. I really wanted to stay away from that, just keep the ball down and not do too much."
Venditte speaks humbly of his numbers, but his talent is pretty amazing to witness. Used almost exclusively as the Yankees' closer, Venditte would toss about 10-15 pitches in the bullpen with one arm, swap his glove, and throw another 15 pitches with the other arm. The seamless transition is an obvious advantage, especially in late-game pressure situations.
"We had so many close games," he said. "Its definitely a grind, and you learn how to get into a routine. I learned that getting into a routine is big, just staying disciplined is a big factor."
Venditte earned a spot on the New York-Penn League All-Star team after pitching to a 1.05 ERA before the break.
"It was a great experience ... seeing those guys, being around so many great players," he said. "I was fortunate and I really enjoyed it."
The switch-pitcher, who was drafted by the Yankees in 2007 and again in 2008, acclimated well to life in New York City.
"It was a little different [in New York], but once you get out there, it's a different pace of life," he said. "It takes a little adjusting, but it couldn't have been better. The fans were amazing, so to play in front of those crowds, it was a lot of fun."
"It also meant a lot for me, to be drafted two years in a row by the Yankees," he added. "They had some interest, and for them to do it twice, it means that much more."
The Yankees certainly can't complain -- Venditte held opponents hitless in 21 of his 30 appearances.
"I do want to move up and do whatever they have in mind," said Venditte. "They told me to put on about 10 pounds and come [to Spring Training] at 190. I always want to add velocity, so that's something to work on, as well as throwing my changeup from right side and left side to get another look in there."
Where Venditte's arms land in April is yet to be determined. Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa are the most likely destinations, and Yankees fans will undoubtedly be following closely.
Danny Wild is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.