Before Kansas City prospect Yordano Ventura even took the mound for his first Triple-A start on Thursday in Omaha, the bar was set pretty high for the Royals No. 3 prospect.
"He’s probably the most exciting guy to come through since Zack Greinke came through," Omaha manager Mike Jirschele told the Omaha World Herald. "And he has a better fastball than Zack had. We’re excited to get him out here."
The fastball that Jirschele raved about was on display in the first inning against the Oklahoma City RedHawks when Ventura touched 100 mph on the stadium radar gun twice – once to strike out OKC second baseman Jake Elmore and again to induce a ground ball out by first baseman Brett Wallace.
Ventura didn’t touch 100 mph again, but he stayed in the 95-99 range all five innings he pitched. He gave up one earned run on one hit, striking out six and walking four.
Ventura, 22, started the 2013 campaign in Double-A NW Arkansas where he made 11 starts, going 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA. Throughout his minor league career, he has a 3.36-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, and he strikes out 10 hitters per nine innings. The 5-11, 180-pound righty is nicknamed "Lil’ Pedro," after Pedro Martinez, because of his combination of size and velocity, according to Baseball America.
The knock against him is his command and at times on Thursday that was the case – although, he did command his curve ball better than his fastball. He also mixed in a change-up on occasion.
"I thought he threw the ball well," Jirschele told me after the game. "He was a little hyped up early, but he settled in. I thought his breaking ball got much better as the game went along, and I thought his overall command got better as the game went along."
John Wathan, the former manager of the Royals and currently a special assistant, was in the dugout next to Jirschele for the game and he made the observation that early on Ventura threw more change-ups than he’d seen him throw in a full game.
Mixing his pitches to keep hitters off balance and gaining better command are more important from Jirschele’s perspective than Ventura lighting up the radar gun.
"He doesn’t need to hit 100, he just needs to command his fastball," Jirschele said. "I thought he commanded the ball well at 95-96."
Time will tell if Jirschele and pitching coach Larry Carter can help Ventura make such an adjustment.
Ventura threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 20 hitters he faced.
"It was good to see," Jirschele said. "But I think the biggest thing he’s got to learn is that when he does get two strikes on guys he doesn’t have to make a perfect pitch to try to strike them out. He just needs to locate his pitch where he needs it to be and not try to do too much."
Even though he needs to tweak his game a little in the minor leagues, you can see why the Royals, and their fans, are so excited about Ventura. His upside is huge.
"I don’t think we saw his best tonight, even though he was pretty doggone good," Carter told MLB.com.
Adam Moore caught the came for Omaha and he was a guest on the Storm Chasers radio pregame show on Friday. As you read his comments, keep in mind that he was a catcher in Seattle when Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 2010.
"His stuff is good as anybody I have ever caught," Moore said on the program. "I was talking to the press last night about it and comparing his stuff to Felix’s stuff, honestly, I see no comparison ... and he’s not afraid to challenge anyone."
Ventura is scheduled to make his next start for Omaha in Nashville on Tuesday.