Every Tuesday, Baseball America will take a look at a prospect who is either just arriving to the majors or on the cusp of the majors to give a look at what can be expected from them both as a player and for fantasy purposes.
The Royals entered spring training with a significant need for a power arm with front-of-the-rotation potential to step up and fill the void left by the departure of Ervin Santana in free agency They had two candidates with lefthander Danny Duffy and righthander Yordano Ventura. While Duffy has continued to struggle with his control, Ventura has been everything the Royals hoped this spring, going 1-2, 2.70 in six appearances while averaging nearly a strikeout an inning.
The Royals have announced that Ventura will begin the season as the club's No. 3 starter, giving a staff with plenty of soft tossers a much needed power arm. He's also fighting history—if he is an above-average starter this year, Ventura will become the first successful homegrown starter the Royals have produced since Zack Greinke.
The first thing anyone talks about with Ventura is his fastball. He's a starting pitcher who can touch and top 100 mph while looking like he's just warming up in the bullpen. Last year, he threw a 101.9 mph fastball that is the fastest pitch recorder by a starter in the Pitch F/X era. Ventura will generally sit at 96-98 mph. He still will overthrow at times, but generally he is able to correct that with a quick adjustment.
Ventura pairs his triple-digit fastball with an above-average curveball that has gone from being a pitch he flashed in Class A to one he can throw consistently nowadays. His changeup likely will always be his third-best pitch, but has improved significantly in the past year as he's added some late movement to what was once a straight changeup.
Ventura's blow-you-away fastball comes in on a relatively flat plane, so when he leaves it up, he does run the risk of giving up home runs. He gave up three in three big league starts last year. But the development of his breaking ball has given him a way to keep hitters from sitting and waiting for the heater. As this GIF from a spring training start against the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo shows, when hitters gear up for the fastball, Ventura’s curveball becomes a lock-em-up weapon.
As good as his stuff is, Ventura's aptitude may be just as notable. Since arriving in the States in 2010, Ventura has added more than 10 mph to his fastball, gained 20 pounds and checked off item after item on the Royals' to-do list to prepare for his arrival in the big leagues.
Now it's a little simplistic to say Ventura had one item to work on each year, but as documented in Baseball America's Top 30 Prospect scouting reports year by year, here's a look at what Ventura had to work on and how he progressed.
|2010||Sharpen an erratic curveball||Yes. It's now a plus pitch.|
|2011||Stop overthrowing||Yes. He now has a free-and-easy delivery.|
|2012||Add movement to changeup||Yes. Ventura added some late fade.|
|2013||Improved command||?. That's to-be-determined in 2014.|
What To Expect
Ventura has faced questions throughout his minor league career about whether he can hold up as a starter, largely because he's 5-foot-11. But at this point, Ventura has shown durability—he's largely avoided the disabled list during his minor league career and is coming off of a 140-inning 2013 season. There’s always a reason to be skeptical about a rookie starting pitcher, but Ventura has the stuff to make an immediate impact. From a fantasy standpoint, expect above-average strikeouts, a solid ERA and potentially double-digit wins, although his WHIP could be higher than one would like. He's slated to be the Royals No. 3 starter and he's a solid Rookie of the Year candidate.