Pipeline Perspectives: Ventura best 'true' rookie so far
Royals right-hander owns electric fastball and has composure to overcome any hurdles
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Who will be the next Rookie of the Year? It's a question we, as prospects experts, are expected to be able to answer with some certainty.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. But we're going to give it a shot in this week's Perspectives, albeit with a Pipeline twist.
What does that mean, exactly? There are few who would argue that Jose Abreu of the White Sox and Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees are not already frontrunners for the American League honor. But they aren't true prospects, given their advanced age and experience playing in leagues in their respective home countries.
When we do our annual prospects rankings, we use the guidelines that dictate the international bonus money pools. Players who are at least 23 years old and played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible. That's why you didn't find Abreu or Tanaka on any lists.
As a result, when Jim Callis and I discuss which rookie is off to the best start in the big leagues this season, only "true prospects" are on the table. Jim talks up D-backs shortstop Chris Owings, who might be the more surprising standout rookie, but I don't think there's any question I have the easier argument to make in discussing Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura.
Ventura, the No. 33-ranked prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 and No. 2 on the Royals' Top 20, would be getting much more early Rookie of the Year ink if it weren't for those other two, Abreu and Tanaka, in the AL. But don't be surprised if the 22-year-old Dominican flame-thrower is in the conversation at season's end.
Taking potential into consideration, there might not be a more exciting rookie to watch in either league. The 2012 Futures Game starter for the World Team has top-grade stuff. It starts with one of the most electric fastballs you're going to see. He sits in the upper 90s consistently and has topped triple digits on several occasions.
And this isn't a small right-hander who lets it all fly for an inning and then sees his velocity drop precipitously. In his second start of the year, a seven-inning outing against the Houston Astros, Ventura was still popping 99 mph heaters in his final inning of work. That's one big reason why the Royals didn't move him into the bullpen while some felt his power arm and size belonged in that role.
Ventura is far from being all fastball. He throws a highly effective curveball as well, one that grades as a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His changeup isn't quite as good, but it could be at least Major League average. In the seventh inning of a start against the Astros on April 15 -- his first Major League win -- he was mixing in both secondary offerings, a very good sign.
Ventura can overthrow at times and when he does that, his pitches can get up in the zone and he can lose command. But according to baseballsavant.com, he's mixed his pitches fairly well, throwing his curve 14.5 percent of the time and his changeup 14.8 percent of the time. Yes, that means he's throwing his fastball more than 70 percent of the time, but if you could throw 100 mph, wouldn't you, too? He's always going to pitch off his fastball and long-term success is just a matter of him learning to mix his pitches better.
Keep in mind, Ventura is still developing, even though he's in the big leagues. That means there likely will be bumps along the way, like his four-inning start Sunday against the Twins, who scored four runs against him. But his pure stuff plus his composure will help him overcome that.
Ventura has not thrown more than 135 innings in one season to date, so that will be a wall to push through, one that all rookies have to deal with. The Royals will clearly keep an eye on his workload and his arm is special enough to get past it with flying colors.
It's probably not fair to extrapolate numbers after just three starts, but if Ventura keeps his ERA under 3.00 and his strikeouts-per-nine rate above 10, he could very easily give Abreu and Tanaka a run for their money in the American League.