One of the Royals’ top prospects, Yordano Ventura, made his first start for AAA Omaha last night after his promotion from AA Northwest Arkansas, where he put up a 2.34 ERA in 57.2 innings to go along with 11.5 K/9.
With the way his offense supported him in his debut, Ventura may have felt like he was already in Kansas City.
When Ventura’s night was done after 5 innings, the Storm Chasers had mustered all of 4 hits and 0 runs, and were down 1-0. They eventually were able to get 2 across in the bottom of the ninth, with a little help from opposing Oklahoma City, so Ventura was able to avoid taking the loss. And that’s a good thing, because he certainly deserved better. In Ventura’s 5 innings of work, he allowed just 1 hit (which came after he recorded 1 out in the 4th inning), struck out 6, walked 4, and allowed 1 run to score. He threw 87 pitches, including 52 strikes. Overall, it was a very strong debut for the 22 year-old right hander.
*I should preface the following report by saying that I am not a scout. I’m just a guy who has watched a lot of baseball and had a seat behind home plate.
Ventura likes to tweet out “#LetsThrowFire” on the days of his starts. And throw fire he did. His first pitch was a 96 MPH fastball, and he was able to stay between 96-98 the entire night. He touched 99 several times and even 100 a couple of times. Obviously the velocity is great, but the most impressive thing I saw was the late life his fastball had. The ball would start to tail away from left-handed batters, or tail into right-handed batters, making a pitch that is difficult to hit even more difficult to hit. It’s always nice to see a guy throw that hard and still have movement, since big league hitters will be able to get around on a straight fastball, no matter how fast it’s thrown.
Standing at 5’11”, 180 lbs, Ventura is a small pitcher. He does look a bit thicker than I was expecting, but he’s still not the body type you would expect for a guy throwing that kind of heat. I’m also no expert in pitching mechanics, but Ventura seems to be incredibly smooth and has an easy delivery. Too often you’ll see undersized pitchers having to really exert themselves to generate high velocity, but with Ventura, it just looks like he’s playing catch. Well, at least until the ball comes out of his hand, at which point it explodes toward the plate.
He did struggle a bit with his fastball command, mainly missing just off the corners, from what I could tell. That’s one part of Ventura’s game I’m sure the Royals want him to work on while he’s in Omaha, as his pitch efficiency needs some refining. Players were able to foul off a lot of pitches against him, which drove his pitch count up, but he also got into 2 and 3 ball counts against too many batters.
While the command of his fastball was off, Ventura seemed to have a very good handle on his curveball, particularly as the game wore on. It mostly sat at about 83-84 MPH with a nice, tight break. He didn’t throw it that much, but I was happy to see him get a player looking at two consecutive curveballs in the strike zone to record one of his strikeouts. He definitely was showing more confidence in that pitch in his later innings, which was great to see. His curveball already appears to be a good pitch, but I agree with all the scouts who see potential for it to become even better.
I wasn’t as impressed with his changeup, which he threw mostly 87-89 MPH. Ventura wasn’t locating that pitch well all night, and that resulted in him only throwing a handful of them total. He’ll need to focus on it more, but I think it could eventually be a nice 3rd offering for him.
As Ventura continues to develop, one thing I’d like to see is him mix up his pitches a little more. When a guy has a fastball that is as good as his – one that Storm Chasers’ manager Mike Jirschele says is better than former Royal Zack Greinke’s – he can occasionally become too dependent on it, so hitters may start to sit on that one pitch. If he can keep improving the curveball, as well as bring the changeup up to an average pitch, Ventura should have no problem transitioning to the major leagues.