If chicks dig the long ball, then scouts dig the high-octane fastball. And 22-year-old Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura has quite an electric one. His 97.5 average fastball velocity was the highest among every single pitcher who made a start in 2013. Even cooler, his fastball touched 101.9 mph according to PITCHf/x. It’s not outrageous for a reliever to throw that hard, as nine of them have since PITCHf/x has delivered reliable data. But starting pitchers simply don’t. Ventura officially unleashed the fastest fastball in the PITCHf/x era.
Of course, there’s more to being an effective pitcher than possessing a ridiculous fastball. Hitters eventually do time the pitch and catch up to it. But having a top-notch fastball certainly gives a pitcher a head start and the pitch likely makes an off-speed offering that much more devastating.
A year ago, Marc Hulet ranked Ventura as the third best Royals prospect. At the time, it was noted that Ventura features a “potentially-plus curveball and a changeup”, with 55-60 scouting grades being slapped on those secondary pitches. The thought was that Ventura had the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter, but is more likely to end up as a high-leverage reliever.
While in the minors in 2013, he continued blowing away hitters, striking out over a batter per inning, but displaying below average control. Though, his walk rate wasn’t so high to be overly concerning. He induced a ton of swinging strikes, with rates significantly above the league average at both Double-A and Triple-A.
Finally, in mid-September, Ventura made his Major League debut and showed off what made him such an intriguing prospect. But in three starts, he lasted just 15.1 innings, and struck out a mere 11 batters. The sample size is obviously tiny and only a couple of more strikeouts would have resulted in a much more respectable strikeout rate. But it was still a surprise that his SwStk%, which generally stabilizes rather quickly, was just 7.8%, well below the 9.3% league average.
As I mentioned before, a fastball typically isn’t enough to get Major League hitters out, let alone strike them out since the pitch has the lowest swinging strike rate. His fastball was nothing special in terms of SwStk%, but with a heater that fast, one would expect his secondary offerings to increase in effectiveness. That didn’t happen.
His curveball generated a disappointing 5.9% SwStk%, while his change-up was better, but still unspectacular with a 9.1% SwStk%. In Hulet’s scouting report referenced above, it was clear that Ventura had to work on his off-speed pitches and in the tiny sample size of three Major League starts, it appears that he still hasn’t gotten them where they need to be.
Since Ventura doesn’t possess elite control, he’ll need to rely on generating swings and misses to be effective and an attractive fantasy option. It’s likely that he’ll be working on the pitches during Spring Training and we may hear one of those annual stories about how great those pitches look. It’s very possible that he improves those pitches and heads into the season with a blazing fastball to go along with at least one other above average pitch. But we won’t know until it’s too late and he’s already drafted by another fantasy team or picked up by a prospect hound.
Unfortunately, he’s also the type of pitcher who you drop early after a disappointing start to the season and you end up regretting it. Sometimes something clicks suddenly and there were no signs that a mini or full-fledged breakout was imminent. Since Ventura has the advantage of already possessing a plus-plus fastball, the upside would seem tremendous. So the best course of action would be to draft him cheaply to give you a high reward without a whole lot of risk and be as patient as possible with him. Cross your fingers and hope he improves his other pitches, as a top strikeout artist in a good home ball park and an improved offense has serious fantasy appeal.
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