A major league debut in a pennant raceby Jeff Moore
September 17, 2013
When in the course of a long baseball season it becomes necessary for one organization to dissolve the political bands which have connected it with its Triple-A franchise, and to assume the powers of the pennant race, the separate and equal station to which the laws of minor league affiliation and of Dayton Moore entitle it, decent respect to the fans of the Omaha Storm Chasers requires that it should declare the causes which impel it to the separation of Yordano Ventura from Triple-A championship hopes.
When the Kansas City Royals announced that they would be calling up 22-year-old pitching prospect Yordano Ventura to make his major league debut on Tuesday, starting a game in the midst of a pennant race in which they have virtually no margin for error, the organization declared independence from traditional baseball thinking. Moore, the Royals general manager, is taking a risk, the consequences of which could be catastrophic but the benefits of which could be historic.
And I freaking love it. Instead of pitching for the Omaha Storm Chasers in the Triple-A championship against the International League champion Durham Bulls, he'll be pitching for the Royals against the Indians in the midst of a pennant race. That's a good phone call to receive.
Ventura is an enigmatic prospect to many scouting types, because they simply can't figure out how a player of his stature—he's listed at 5-foot-11 and anywhere from 150-180 pounds, depending on whom you believe—can throw for so hard and maintain his velocity for so long. Many have believed for years that he is destined for a relief role because of his size, despite continued success as a starting pitcher throughout his minor league career.
But Ventura is about much more than just velocity. Sure, sitting in the mid-90s is great and being able to dial it up to 100 when needed is a nice card to have up one's sleeve, but Ventura also features a plus power curveball and a potential plus change-up, giving him a trifecta the envy of just about every pitcher in the game. Ventura's refinement may not be on major league-par just yet, but he's got the Pedro Martinez Starter Kit and a decent idea how to use it. You can question the rationality of sending a starter out to the mound for his major league debut this deep in a pennant race, but you can't question whether Ventura is the most talented candidate for the job.
No one is doubting Ventura's abilities; he's been ranked among the game's top pitching prospects since he came stateside from the Dominican Republic. But how willo those abilities will translate vs. the Cleveland Indians in a pennant race?
The possibilities are endless for Ventura's start. He had five starts this season in which he failed to get out of the fifth inning, and he threw 89 pitches or more in four of them. He had two double-digit strikeout starts, neither of which lasted more than six innings. In perhaps his best start of the 2013 season, he went eight strong innings, striking out eight and posting a game score of 78.
That last example is unlikely for tonight, as the Royals will probably keep a strict eye on his pitch count. The Indians are a patient offensive club but are also prone to strikeouts, which could spell a feast or famine situation for Ventura. Don't be surprised to see a game similar to the second scenario described above, in which he strikes out a number of batters but runs up a high pitch count early. This start should be a good test for the vaunted Royals bullpen.
But no one will be tuning in to see the Royals bullpen tonight. All eyes will be on the slender right-hander toeing the rubber for the first time as a major leaguer. His team stands just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card berth with too few games to play to afford losing even one game. In a pennant race that has reached its desperation point for the Royals, they have turned to their best candidate to catch lightning in a bottle. That metaphor most accurately sums up Ventura's game, and at least for one night, may just give the Royals the chance they need to continue their improbable run back to contention.
Jeff Moore is the creator of MLBProspectWatch.com, your one-stop site for all the information you need about minor league prospects. He can be reached via e-mail at mlbprospectwatch AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter at @MLBPW