Rain can't postpone excitement for Ventura
Royals' highly touted rookie has made strides since September debut
DETROIT -- Mother Nature impeded plans for Yordano Ventura's 2014 unveiling. She is evidently not in tune with prominent prospect promotions or the pinings of an expectant fan base.
Emotionally tied to the idea of giving veteran Jeremy Guthrie the nod in Friday's home opener, Ned Yost wasn't going to budge in the wake of Thursday's rainout at Comerica Park. So he is sticking Ventura, who had been Thursday's scheduled starter, in his bullpen for a few days and slotting him in for a start next Tuesday.
Soon enough, then, we'll all get a real look at the 22-year-old on whom the Royals are hanging a significant portion of their AL Central hopes.
That big league break-in last September, when Ventura turned in a 3.52 ERA in three starts, was merely a taste, as was a Spring Training showing in which Ventura's improved command combined with Danny Duffy's mental lapses on the mound to make what figured to be a difficult rotation decision remarkably easy, in retrospect.
Future arbitration issues be darned, the Royals were not going to run the risk of letting Ventura's upside waste away in Triple-A. It was an applaudable move in a business in which the service clock often reigns supreme in end-of-spring roster construction. And for a Royals team with so much riding on the here and now, it was a necessary move, too.
"He's got a ways to go," pitching coach Dave Eiland acknowledged. "Can he bounce back from failure? When the league makes adjustments, can he handle it? A ways to go.
"But gosh, it's all in there."
Ventura is listed at an unimposing 6 feet, 180 pounds, and, even then, the height, as with so many media guide concoctions, is on the generous side. He has filled out his frame quite a bit since the Royals initially signed him out of his native Dominican Republic in 2008, but, purely from a physical standpoint, the oft-cited Pedro Martinez comparisons have merit.
Whether he can replicate Pedro on the mound, of course, remains to be seen.
"I have motivation," he said, "so I can keep doing things like Pedro did."
What Pedro did was unleash his arsenal with a seeming effortlessness that boggled the mind, as well as a deceptiveness that crushed the confidence of the hitter in the box. Ventura does not have Pedro's changeup, but, as you've no doubt read or heard, he throws harder than a young Pedro did. The fastball he threw to the Indians' Yan Gomes in his big league debut on Sept. 17 was clocked at 101.9 mph -- the fastest pitch by a starter in five seasons. Of course, the fact that Gomes singled on the pitch illustrated the notion that velocity ain't everything.
The Royals, though, are impressed with Ventura's embracing of that notion. Eiland worked with him on fundamental delivery issues that needed to be ironed out last September. Ventura's front left side was a little high when he went into his delivery, altering his arm slot and prompting a streak of pitches up in the zone.
Eiland showed up to Spring Training expecting the rookie to need a refresher course in those changes, but, lo and behold, Ventura proved from his first 'pen that he had adopted them as mainstays in his mechanics.
"He was better than he was last September," Eiland said.
Proper delivery will allow Ventura to capitalize on his calm composure. There was a moment in the second inning of that Sept. 17 start that Ventura walked the leadoff hitter, Carlos Santana, and Eiland wondered if the kid might start to buckle. But when the next batter, Michael Brantley, smacked a comebacker to the mound, Ventura fielded it cleanly and tossed to second to start a double play.
"He turned that double play like he was doing PFP on the back field in Surprise," Eiland said. "His first play in his first big league game, and we were still in the race, too. That showed me something."
It doesn't seem overly dramatic to insist the Royals need Ventura to continue to show them something this season.
Duffy is still unrefined between the ears, capable of letting big innings or small strike zones get the best of him instead of letting his raw stuff work for him. Kyle Zimmer, rated the Royals' top prospect ahead of No. 2 Ventura by MLB.com, is on a slow-go program after a bout with biceps tendinitis, so he'll most likely be a 2014 factor only in September at best.
The loss of Ervin Santana to free agency created a need for quality innings in the rotation, particularly given the unproven nature of a young lineup that, two games into 2014, is clearly still a work in progress on the maturation front. And considering the potential loss of James Shields after 2014, you see where the emergence of a young ace-type is essential for the Royals' not-too-distant future.
That's why they'll willingly sign up for the necessary growing pains of Ventura's 2014. He's still refining his command and learning to suppress the occasional urge to hit 105 instead of 98 on the radar gun. But the good far outweighs the bad, and the importance of upside in the present tense far outweighs the eventual financial benefits of keeping him in Omaha.
"Yordano's going to have good stuff every time he steps on the mound," Yost said. "His issue is going to be with command. He'll learn to refine that, he'll learn to become more consistent with his command.
"But the one thing about him is he's always going to be fun to watch."
If only Mother Nature didn't make us wait.