Signed by the Kansas City Royals as a 17-year-old amateur from the Dominican Republic in the fall of 2008, the rise of now 22-year-old Yordano Ventura has been as meteoric as the triple-digit fastball that is released from his right hand. A two-time veteran of the Futures Game -- minor league baseball's showcase event during the major league All-Star break -- Ventura is showing that the future is now in Kansas City.
Ventura broke camp with the Royals as the club's fifth starter this spring. After inclement weather delayed his 2014 debut by a few days, the youngster has done nothing but impress with high-octane velocity and strike-throwing ability that is atypical for a pitcher of his ilk.
Through his first three starts, Ventura collected 19 strikeouts and issued seven walks in 17 innings. His average fastball registers at a cool 97 mph while maxing out near 103. If velocity is not your cup of tea, his upper-80s changeup and lower-80s breaking ball excel at freezing hitters or giving the illusion they are swinging palm trees through peanut butter to borrow a phrase from former minor league catcher and manager Chad Epperson.
While Ventura showed flashes of brilliance against the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins this season, his best effort to date came against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night. Entering the game, the Orioles owned the second-highest team batting average in the majors (.274) while scoring the sixth-most runs (102). They have also been the most aggressive team in the American League, pacing the junior circuit in both swing and chase rate.
Ventura spun eight shutout innings against the Orioles in Baltimore. He scattered seven hits while walking two and adding eight punchouts to his season total. The 113 pitches he threw represented a career high, but so did his strike rate of 66 percent.
Despite his youth, Ventura executed a veteran-savvy game plan. Preying on the O's aggressive style, he had Baltimore swinging and chasing for most of the night. Of his 113 pitches, 47 were non-fastballs representing the lowest fastball usage (by percentage) of his young career. Though his heater was mighty -- clocking in at 99 mph at its apex -- it was the changeup and curveball that kept Baltimore off the board. Thus far the off-speed pitch has been Ventura's better secondary option, however, it was the breaking ball that won best supporting role versus Baltimore.
The curveball Ventura used on Friday was thrown on average about 15 mph slower than his heater. It resulted in a strike on 16 of the 22 times it was thrown including five to complete strikeouts. He used another five hooks to induce ground ball outs. While Venture worked the upper reaches of the strike zone with his fastball, the curveball was typically thrown arm-side and down.
Though Ventura's changeup did not result in many outs, it did serve a purpose. The right-hander used it generously in traditional fastball counts -- eight times on the first pitch of a plate appearance -- to disrupt Baltimore's timing.
A pitcher in his early 20s with premium velocity, a swing-and-miss changeup, a nifty curveball and an idea of where each one is going is an extremely tough matchup for any offense. Ventura will surely hit some pot holes along the way. However, with velocity to make up for mistakes and a pair of quality contingency plans, his road to stardom should be relatively smooth.
Tommy Rancel writes for The Process Report, a blog on the Tampa Bay Rays.