For the second straight game, rookie starting pitcher Yordano Ventura took the mound in a must-win game for the Kansas City Royals. For the second straight time, Ventura has delivered a strong start. Ventura’s fastball has blown away major-league hitters. The 22-year-old Ventura has 11.1 IP in two starts, with 9 strikeouts while allowing only 7 hits and 2 runs. More importantly, he has flashed what is clearly top-of-the-rotation stuff and adequate command to succeed at the major-league level.
Not only has Ventura provided a boost to the Royals unlikely drive for a playoff berth, he is showing that he can be a solution for next year’s rotation.
Ventura’s fastball clocked between 98-102 mph in his September 17 start against Cleveland (in which the bullpen failed to hold a 3-1 lead), while relaxing to a still-dominating 95-98 in his start yesterday against Seattle. Ventura’s start against Cleveland included the fastest regular-season pitch recorded during the pitchf/x era (a pitch data collection system installed in every major league stadium in 2007). Scouts say that Ventura’s hard stuff actually is more effective at the lower velocity, due to increased action on the pitch.
Ventura is a three-pitch pitcher. He throws his outstanding fastball, a plus curve and a developing change-up. Throughout his career, his command along with his durability have been his biggest concerns. In 14 triple-A starts this season, Ventura has allowed 3.86 walks per 9 innings—a rate he has mostly maintained in his two major-league starts (3.97 BB/9 in 11.1 IP). The second major concern regards his ability to handle starter innings. He entered the Royals system at 5-11 140lbs. which made many doubt his arm would hold up in the rotation. Ventura has since gained 40 lbs. and now weighs in at a more substantial 180. He’s pitched a career-high 146.0 IP across AA, AAA, and MLB this season, while still appearing strong.
Ventura is emerging at an opportune time for GM Dayton Moore. The Royals only have two starters under contract for next season in James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie. If Ventura can hold down the no. 2 slot, they will not be forced to overpay in case the bidding for impending free-agent Ervin Santana gets out of hand this winter. Bruce Chen is also a pending free-agent in 2014, while Wade Davis has pretty much failed in his return to the rotation this season (ERA 5.67).
Ventura will join a number of candidates for the Royals 2014 rotation that include the rehabbing Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino (both coming back from 2012 Tommy John surgery). With Luke Hochevar’s strong bullpen performance this season and his demonstrated ability to pitch well with runners on base (his career Achillies heel), Hochevar is likely to get some consideration for a return to the rotation. Former top prospect Chris Dwyer has also pitched himself into the mix with a comeback season in Omaha (3.55 ERA, including a dominating performance in the AAA Championship game).
Right now, Ventura looks like a viable candidate to replace Ervin Santana if the Royals fail to resign him this winter.