Royals righthander Yordano Ventura died Sunday morning in an auto accident in his home country, the Dominican Republic. He was 25.
Confirmation of the reports of Ventura’s death came via Twitter from Dominican national police colonel Jacobo Mateo Moquete, who tweeted grisly photos of the accident with the caption (translated from the original Spanish), “Regrettable! Baseball player Yordano Ventura is the person who died in crash in Juan Adrian in the early hours of today.” Royals officials and Ventura’s agency later confirmed his death to Baseball America.
The Royals issued a statement shortly before noon ET.
“Our prayers right now are with Yordano’s family as we mourn this young man’s passing,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in the statement. “He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano.”
An auto accident in the Dominican also claimed the life of ex-big leaguer Andy Marte over the weekend, and Ventura famously pitched one of his finest games while honoring his friend Oscar Tavares of the Cardinals, who died at age 22 in the D.R. in an October 2014 wreck.
Ventura is the second frontline starter to die in the last six months, following last September’s death of 24-year-old Jose Fernandez of the Marlins.
Known for his hot temper and blazing fastball, Ventura helped key the Royals to the 2015 World Series championship, going 13-8, 4.08 that season. He made nine postseason starts during Kansas City’s pennant-winning seasons in ’14 and ’15, going 1-2, 4.66. He was 38-31, 3.89 overall since making his big league debut as a 22-year-old with three starts in 2013.
He did it with one of the firmest fastballs in the majors, particularly for a starting pitcher, averaging 96.3 mph on his heater in 2016. Just two starting pitchers averaged a higher velocity than Ventura, whose hardest pitch in 2016 was clocked at 100.5 mph.
Slight-bodied at 6-foot, 195 pounds but blessed with a quick arm, Ventura originally signed for a $28,000 bonus in October 2008. He burst onto the scene in 2010, when he jumped to the Rookie-level Arizona League and ranked as the league’s No. 2 prospect and the Royals’ No. 12 prospect that offseason. He was touching 100 mph even then and later developed a plus curveball and found more durability as he cleaned up his delivery.
He emerged as a big leaguer with a strong rookie season in 2014, going 14-10, 3.20 as the Royals won their first American League pennant since 1985. He earned nearly as many headlines for his tempestuous nature on the mound, leading to a 2016 brawl with the Orioles’ Manny Machado. That was the latest in a string of bench-clearing arguments and ejections Ventura had precipitated, including an incident with the White Sox in 2015 that prompted a seven-game suspension. He was suspended for nine days (later reduced to eight) for the Machado incident.
Scouts, opposing managers and coaches, Royals personnel and teammates all wondered if Ventura would reach his wondrous potential or if his temper would keep him as a tease. Now we’ll never know what this hard-throwing potential star could have become.