Back in 2009, we witnessed one of the best pitching seasons (if not the best) in Royals history. That year, Zack Greinke showed everyone just how talented he really was, winning the American League Cy Young award and posting numbers that are few and far between. Since then, the Royals have done a poor job of producing homegrown starting pitching, with Danny Duffy being the most successful (and he is now in the bullpen). So it should come to no one’s surprise that Royals fans are elated about the prospects of young flamethrower Yordano Ventura.
Ventura combines an electric fastball that reaches triple digits with an improving curve and a change-up. Anyone who has followed baseball for awhile realizes that just because you can throw hard doesn’t guarantee success but if you learn how to pitch (not throw), you have a chance for a long career. Ventura is good enough that there is already talk that when James Shields leaves after the season for free agency that Ventura will slide in and take over the role of ‘Ace’. Yes, it is ironic that he could be slotted in that role when he has already been given the nickname, as an ode to the classic Jim Carrey movie. So how does a 22 year old rookie get anointed savior of the Royals starting rotation with only four major league starts under his belt? It’s not just the blazing fastball or the cool nickname. No, it’s the ability to pitch to his strengths.
In Spring Training, Ventura had outings where his curve was at its knee-buckling best. So he used it more than he normally would. This past week, during his first start of the 2014 campaign, Ventura didn’t have a good feel on his curve. So instead of continuing to try something that wasn’t working, he used his change-up more and made the Rays look completely lost at the plate. Ventura is already picking up the nuances of pitching that many guys don’t learn until their late 20’s. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many are predicting such a high ceiling for him. But there are concerns.
Ventura is very small, especially for a guy who throws as hard as he does. In the past, many pitchers who throw that hard with such a small frame end up hurting their arms and shortening their careers. There are exceptions, as future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez easily comes to mind. There is also worry about pushing him too hard, too soon. Last season Ventura pitched the most innings of his career, a combined 150 innings between the minors and majors. The Royals have said they won’t put an innings limit on him, but don’t be surprised if he is sometimes taken out of games in the 6th inning, if anything to save his arm for later in the year. These things are concerns, but not anything that can’t be overcome.
As long as the Royals and Ventura are smart, the team has a chance of producing a pitching talent to rival classic Royals like Greinke, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier and Steve Busby. That is pretty nice company for a 22 year old ‘kid’. At this point, the sky’s the limit for ‘Ace’ Ventura.