Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE
Royals' prospect Yordan Ventura certainly throws hard, but is that enough to get him into a big league rotation? Andrew Ball examines the potential outcomes for the right-handed pitcher.
Most baseball fans are familiar with the phrase "Three True Outcomes". The term refers to walks, strike outs and home runs. These outcomes are "true" in that they pit the pitcher against the batter, largely independent of outside factors like defense or foot speed. When ball four is awarded to the batter, it is a certainty that he will be reaching first base.
When it comes to prospects, certainties do not exist. Every prospect has a wide range of outcomes between their ceiling and floor potential, with most players settling somewhere in between the two. I like to think of prospect outcomes as the Dream (the player's ceiling), the Nightmare (the player's floor) and the Reality (weighing all the factors to come up with the most likely outcome). Throughout the year, we will be examining the ceilings and floors of players across the minor leagues, and making our best forecasts on the eventual outcome. Today, we take a look at the Three (Possibly) True Outcomes for one of the little guys, Kansas City right-hander, Yordano Ventura.
Yordano Ventura has been one of my favorite prospects for a few seasons. Heading into 2013, it seems that many of the noted prospect hubs have joined in on my love for Ventura, with five of the major sites (BA, BP, Fangraphs, Minor Leauge Ball, and MLB.com) placing him in their top 100 lists. If you go watch him pitch live, the first thing you will notice is that he is small in every sense of the word. Listed at 5'11" and anywhere from 140-180 lbs, diminutive is an accurate term used to describe the Dominican pitcher. When he signed with KC in 2008 as an international free agent, his heater sat in the mid-80s. That is no longer the case, as Ventura has cleaned up his delivery and actually added weight, becoming one of the hardest throwing starters in the minors during the process. On a typical night now, his fastball sits 94-97 and routinely touches triple digits. Jason Parks' report says that his fastball is an "easy 7 offering" and that it could "play at (an) 8 in bursts". The pitch isn't just hard and straight either; it flashes plus movement, with hard arm-side run. I could keep gushing about his fastball, but I have limited space so let's just move on. The breaking ball Ventura uses is an overhand curveball. The yellow hammer shows good depth and the ability to miss bats, flashing plus potential at times. His changeup shows promise, yet like many young starters, it still needs refinement. 2012 marked Ventura's most successful minor league season to date, striking out over 30% of the batters he faced in Hi-A before his late season promotion to Double-A. He should begin this year back at Double-A with a chance to reach Kansas City in 2013. His fastball/curveball combo could be one of the best in the big leagues someday, giving him the ceiling of a top-25 starter.
Ceiling Fantasy Line: 17 wins, 3.13 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 217 K
In my last TTO piece, I examined Gerrit Cole, who in ways is very similar to Ventura. He has command problems, and his raw stuff is ahead of the results he has produced to this point. Although he had a strong season at Hi-A, the Carolina League is a pitcher's league full of inexperienced hitters. Once he moved up to Double-A Arkansas, he found that he could not get by with just his explosive fastball. Despite a curveball that may be very effective in the future, some sources say that he currently lacks any consistent offspeed pitch. There is no question he will need to develop those pitches and improve command of his entire pitch selection to become a quality starter. There are questions about Ventura's frame. How well will he hold up to a starters' workload? Will he be able to get enough downward plane on the baseball to keep it in the yard? These are the fears with any short pitcher. Ventura commonly gets compared to two other small right-handers; one that we'll get to in The Reality, and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers. Feliz is another small, fire-balling Dominican righty who many felt would become a frontline starter. To this point though, his only success has come in relief and he has not held up to rigors of pitching in the majors. The industry consensus seems to be that Ventura is destined for a bullpen role, which certainly limits his value going forward. For his fantasy floor, however, it may actually be a good thing, because there is a good chance Ventura could become a successful reliever with his fastball. I think it's likely he would have a shot at closing, but his floor is a little below that.
Floor Fantasy Line: 61 Innings, 3.78 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 58 K
I actually think Ventura has a smaller range of outcomes than most pitching prospects. If the curveball and changeup continue to develop, I think he becomes a Major League starter and a good one. If those pitches lag and he does not improve his command as he continues rising up the ranks, he ends up in the bullpen. Command is the toughest thing to project for a pitcher, but I feel pretty good about the development of his secondary offerings. The footage I have seen of his curveball shows a tight rotation, and he has the ability to throw the pitch for a strike or in the dirt when ahead in the count. I see the plus potential, and it seems likely that it becomes an above average pitch. I have barely mentioned his change, mostly because he has hardly used it to this point in his career. When you throw as hard as Ventura, you can get by at the lower levels without any sort of change of pace pitch. As he throws the pitch more and gains confidence in it, it should settle in as an average offering, giving him a weapon to combat left-handed hitters. Unfortunately this is where my rational thoughts about Yordano Ventura end. The second player Ventura is commonly compared to? Pedro Martinez. Is that a fair comparson for any prospect? Not at all. Is it part of the reason I believe he may in fact end up a starter after all? Of course it is. I can understand why many in the industry see a reliever when they look at Ventura. His stature probably won't allow him to ever become a 200 inning workhorse, but I bet he can be a really effective 160-180 inning/year starter who strikes out around 8.0/9 innings. That will make him a valuable asset in real life, and in the back of your fantasy rotation.
Fantasy Line: 11 Wins, 3.91 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 159 K
You can check out my other writing at Fantasy Ninjas.