July 8, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; World pitcher Yordano Ventura follows through on a pitch during the first inning of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports via US PRESSWIRE
Many of us saw, or by now have heard, about Royals' prospect Yordano Ventura starting the Futures Game on Sunday for the World Team. In a game predominately filled with AA and AAA level players, Ventura, who has not yet been out of A ball, fit right in.
Sure, the gun at the K might be hot, but all that means is Ventura's three 100 mph fastballs were 'only' 98. Coupled with a curve and a changeup that Baseball America (Ventura was rated the #10 prospect in the system before the year) describes as 'having unfair separation from his fastball' and Yordano is a guy one has to be excited about.
Of course, we have been excited before. For years, the Royals have had pitching prospects dominate at both levels of A ball only to smash into the AA ceiling. Since Zack Greinke, Kansas City really has just Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Danny Duffy to tout as guys who actually made it all the way to the majors. Crow, who hardly dominated in the minors, made it as a reliever. Herrera, who did dominate but could not stay healthy, also made it as a reliever. Only Duffy managed to stay a starter and has gone under the knife after less than a full season's worth of starts.
What is Ventura's ceiling? Top of the rotation stuff. What is the chance that he becomes a true number one type? Well, not very good simply based on what happens to pitching prospects in every organization and, sadly, especially in the Royals' system.
Worse yet: size matters.
Yordano Ventura is not large. He's not even close. Some sources list him at 5'11" and just 140 pounds. Others have him weighing as much as 160 pounds and that is probably closer to the truth at this point. It has to be doesn't it? I mean, my oldest daughter just finished her junior year in high school and she's a skinny white girl who is 5'10" and weighs 130 pounds. A guy who throws 100 mph has to be bigger than her, right? Right?!!
The first comparison that came to mind for many of us was Kelvin Herrera. He threw 43 innings in 2007 in the Dominican and then 63 the next year between Rookie and A ball. Kelvin could not stay healthy, managing just 46 innings as a starter in 2009 and 2010 combined. As we all know, Herrera moved to relief in 2011, pitched at four levels and might well become the team's closer sometime in 2013. Back in the day, Herrera weighed in the 160s. He currently is listed as weighing 190 pounds and measures just 5'10" tall.
Now, Ventura threw 64 innings in 2010, 84 in 2011 and already has 76 under his belt in 16 starts this year. That is already more career innings than Herrera has compiled at all levels including the majors. You can do the math, however, and note that Yordano is averaging less than five innings per start. In his last ten High A starts, Ventura has pitched seven innings twice, six innings once and 5.2 innings another time.
There have been a fair number of comments on this site that Ventura was likely to end up in the bullpen: quite possibly sooner rather than later. I read the tenor of many of those with a 'here go the Royals again, deciding what a player is before actually finding out'. The Royals should give Ventura every opportunity to prove he can be a starter, they would be foolish (or just the stubborn - which is very possible) not to.
However, size matters.
I took a stroll through the Baseball Reference archives and searched for pitchers who weighed less than 175 pounds, appeared in at least 100 games, started at least 75% of those, and did so since 1980. There were 29 total in the last 32 years. Sorted by ERA+, I bet you all can guess who is number one on the list.
I stopped at seven, because number eight on Baseball Reference's list was Nolan Ryan. They have Ryan listed at 170 pounds, which he might well have been in 1969, but my recollection is of a much bigger guy pitching in Ryan's uniform for most of his career. Other notable names on the list were Ron Guidry, Dennis and Ramon Martinez, Oil Can Boyd (cocaine is a hell of a drug, kids) and Larry Gura.
Let's cut the criteria down to 165 pounds or less, leaving all the other search parameters the same. Now we are down to just 11 guys who pitched in more than 100 games and usually as starters. Seven of those eleven had above average ERA+:
- Bret Saberhagen
- Pascaul Perez
- Ron Guidry
- Dennis Martinez
- Ramon Martinez
- Jose Guzman
- Oil Can Boyd
No one on this list of 11 pitched in a major league game since 2006. The last was Joe Mays. Oh god, Joe Freaking Mays!
Okay, let's cut our original list of 29 guys under 175 pounds one last time. How many of those, according to Baseball Reference, were under six feet tall?
Yep, not one pitcher listed (and take that listing for what it's worth) as being less than six feet tall and less than 175 pounds managed to make it through 100 major league games being used predominately as a starter in the last 32 years. I have to tell you, that surprised me. It also discouraged me, because I really liked what I saw out of Ventura on Sunday.
Does this doom Yordano Ventura to a career in the bullpen? Not necessarily and, as I said above, the Royals would be wise to keep him starting until Ventura absolutely proves he can't do it. After all, Yordano just turned 21 in June, he could still, you know, grow.