Prospect Preview: Yordano Ventura

Yordano Ventura - Photo Credit goes to my lovely girlfriend Katherine Pappas, who let me ignore her most of the evening while I discussed baseball with a relative stranger. She's the best.

I have to apologize for the delay of the Prospect Preview for a day. I took the opportunity to attend a Hi-A game between the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Potomac Nationals to get a first person look at today's subject. Here's the deal:

It was late in the work day on Monday when I saw a tweet from Keith Law saying he'd be at the Potomac Nationals vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks game to see Yordano Ventura throw. I had just that morning been discussing my love for Ventura (and Carlos Martinez) with FakeTeams very own Bret Sayre, and knowing that Keith has always welcomed fans, I thought attending would be a great opportunity to see one of my favorite pitchers in action, as well as meet the writer most responsible for my interest in the minor leagues and prospects.

First things first, a quick game report before what the scouting reports say about Ventura. I missed the first two innings of the game as I unfortunately work about an hour away from the ballpark (without traffic), and the traffic out of DC and into Virginia is, in a word: awful. A small sidenote before we get to the good stuff. Yes, they are called the Potomac Nationals and yes there is a Potomac in Maryland, not far from where I live. Unfortunately, the Potomac Nationals are located in Woodbridge, Virginia and there is traffic to Woodbridge pretty much every waking moment of every day. I worked in the press box there one summer and despite leaving my job at 3:00 pm, I would still not arrive at the park until between 5:30-6:00 pm. There's no reason for traffic at 3:30 in the afternoon. There just isn't. WHERE ARE YOU PEOPLE GOING!?!

/end rant

On to Mr. Ventura (I really truly wish he was a potential ace, as the jokes are just begging to be made) and the rest of the game. He went seven innings for the second time all year, striking out seven while walking two. He threw almost all fastballs against a pitiful Potomac lineup that has been without it's only bonafide prospect in Anthony Rendon for most of the year. Based on what Keith told me, and per his tweet, Ventura was sitting in the mid-90s during his outing, and hit 98 MPH on the gun. I would have liked to see a more diverse approach given that this is the minors and results are second to development, but I can't entirely fault a guy for sticking with what works, and Ventura's fastball was most definitely working. Wilmington's two best hitters, Orlando Calixte and Cheslor Cuthbert, only managed one hit between them, but they made it count as Calixte blasted a three run home run, set up perfectly by a sacrifice bunt. Calixte and Cuthbert did manage four walks in their 10 combined plate appearances, with each notching a stolen base. Calixte was promoted to the Blue Rocks after a nice performance in the Midwest League, and certainly looked like he belonged in Hi-A in this game.

Read more after the jump... Also, please read Keith's review of Ventura, Cuthbert, Calixte and his quick take on the Youkilis deal here (subscription req'd)

A little history on Ventura before we get to 2012. He's listed at 5'11 and might not even be that, and is a wafer-thin 145 lbs, so when he generates upper 90s heat, it really catches the eye. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic for a mere $28,000 (no surprise given his frame), though he has since added 10 MPH to his fastball as he has added weight. Ventura threw a career high 84 innings last year - actually almost doubling his career innings total - with great success. His 4.27 ERA belied a strikeout rate above one per inning and a BB/9 of 2.56, impressive for a 19-year old making his full season debut. I became intrigued by Ventura, not just for his velocity, but due to his impressive strikeout to walk rates throughout his career. Not much has changed thus far in 2012, as he's actually elevated his K/9 to 11.25, though with that has come a BB/9 of 3.44. While the walk rate is up, Ventura has yet to walk more than 3 batters in a game thus far this year, but was limited to short outings early in the year. Despite his impressive velocity, Ventura has been fairly hittable in his career, averaging just about a hit per inning, a symptom of his lack of command, despite owning solid control. While his peripheral numbers have remained above-average, Ventura's HR/9 rate has increased each year, and while it is a small sample so far in 2012, it could be that better hitters are able to take advantage on the plane (or lack thereof) that Ventura is able to generate due to his height.

During my discussion with Bret, I stated that I think I may have a "type." What I meant by that, is my fascination with hard throwing, but smaller pitchers. The players in question were the aforementioned Ventura and Martinez. There's something aesthetically pleasing (or perhaps intriguing) about seeing that type of velo come out of the hand of someone with their build. I expect to be a huge Marcus Stroman fan as soon as I see some footage. There's something that makes me root for these guys, even though it is more likely that they end up as bullpen arms, no matter how good their stuff is. This is the case moreso for Ventura than it is for Martinez who has shown several above-average pitches, compared to Ventura's one. While he can hit triple digits, he is far more of an effective pitcher when he backs off the velo a bit, and sits in the mid-90s as he was doing Monday night. His fastball has late life on it, that jumps on the hitter even at (relatively) lower velocities. His curveball has received positive reviews when he isn't overthrowing it, with BaseballAmerica saying it has plus potential, and Jason Parks saying it could be a plus pitch in time. He's been doing a better job of throwing it for strikes this year, not using it purely as a swing and miss offering, though I wasn't able to see much of it in his performance last night. I would like to stress that while this pitch has plus potential, it is by no means there right now. He is extremely inconsistent with both his curve and his change at the moment. His change up is his third best offering, behind even the curve, which should tell you all you need to know about where it is right now. What it has going for it is some late fade as well as an absurd different in velocity from his fastball. The change up registers in the high-70s/low-80s. Ventura has some serious effort in his delivery, leading many to assume that he will end up as a high leverage reliever, though the Royals have worked with him to clean up his mechanics and progress has been made in that area. As I mentioned before, the lack of plane he gets on his fastball is a concern as he is currently sporting a .82 GB/FB rate, though he's finished above 1 in that ratio every year of his career. There is enough life on his fastball that he can generate groundballs if he can locate down in the zone.

Ventura has the type of stuff to profile as a top of the rotation starter, but questions on his height, build, stamina, command and overall repertoire remain. He could be an overwhelming presence out of the bullpen, but the Royals will develop him as a starter, and wait to see if either or both of his secondary pitches will blossom. If they do, he could be a high strikeout type of performer, one worth owning in any fantasy league. If he ends up in the bullpen, he has the stuff to dominate and would be useful even as a middle reliever. By no means a finished product, Ventura is well worth watching as he develops. You can catch him in the futures game and he is one of a couple arms who could hit triple digits in a short stint there.

I am not on facebook. I am on Twitter. Follow me if you think you can handle it. (Hint: you can. It's lame)

Source Material:
Keith Law/In Person (ESPN I guess, maybe?)
BaseballAmerica
BaseballProspectNation
Fangraphs
MiLB.com

For anyone wondering or interested, Keith Law was absolutely a pleasure to meet. He was more than gracious with his time and we had a great conversation (at least from my end). So if you ever of the opportunity to say hello, I strongly encourage it. Unless you're a crazy person. Then you stay away. From me, from him, pretty much everyone. K thanks.

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