Sports

Royals’ Yordano Ventura Looks To Harness Blazing Fastball

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 17: Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals sits in the dugout in the fifth inning during a game against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium on September 17, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Yordano Ventura (Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

By Rich Arleo

CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.

Yordano Ventura, Starting Pitcher, Kansas City Royals

2013 season (minors): 26 G, 134.2 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.277 WHIP, 8 W, 155 SO, 53 BB

2013 season (majors): 3 G, 15.1 IP, 3.52 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 0 W, 11 SO, 6 BB

When your fastball consistently clocks in around 97 miles per hour and can top out at an unbelievable 102 mph, you are going to turn some heads. That’s exactly what Yordano Ventura has done and is a big reason why he’s in the running for the No. 5 spot in the Royals’ starting rotation.

The 22-year-old flamethrower out of the Dominican Republic got a taste of big league action last September and made headlines with a pitch that clocked in at 101.9 mph. It was the fastest pitch thrown in the majors in five years, and he followed it up with consistent heat in the high 90s. In three starts, across 15.1 innings, he allowed six earned runs (including three home runs) and 13 hits while striking out 11.

Ventura was 18 and very raw when he debuted for the organization in Rookie league in 2009. He racked up a ton of strikeouts and blew threw the batters before getting moved up to Single-A in 2011 and eventually Double-A the following year. That season, Ventura struck out 130 hitters in 109.1 innings pitched with a 3.62 ERA and 1.226 WHIP between Single-A and Double-A.

He began last season with 11 more dominant starts in Double-A before moving up again. While the success continued in his first stint in Triple-A — 81 strikeouts in 77 innings — the hits and walks began pile up too. Surrendering 80 hits and 33 walks led to a career-worst 1.468 WHIP in 14 starts.

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As with most young fireballers, control is a main concern; it’s not easy to get a 100 mph fastball to go exactly where you want it. Ventura will have to make the transition from thrower to pitcher to succeed in the majors. To go along with the heat, Ventura also throws a curveball in the low 80s and a changeup that averaged about 10 mph slower than his fastball in his three starts with the Royals last September.

With Luke Hochevar suffering from serious elbow issues, it comes down to Ventura and fellow prospect Danny Duffy for the final rotation spot. At 22, with minor league options remaining, Ventura could start the season at Triple-A Omaha. But after striking out 455 hitters in 415.1 minor league innings, he’s going to be first in line for a rotation spot when someone struggles or goes down. And there’s a very good chance Ventura wins the job right out of spring training.

Either way, his ceiling is infinitely higher than that of Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and Bruce Chen in the middle of that rotation. The odds all three of those veterans hold on to their rotation spots all season long are slim and none. Ventura will make his mark on the mound for the Royals this season, even if it doesn’t happen in April.

Next up: Oswaldo Arcia, Minnesota Twins

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Rich Arleo is a Marist College alum who has been a professional writer and editor since graduating in 2010. Find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for more of his sports musings.Oswaldo Arcia