Yordano Ventura Made a Lasting Impact During His Way-Too-Short MLB Career
While in my mid-20s, myself and a group of 10 buddies went to the Dominican Republic. We are religious guys and decided to go someplace impoverished to help out.
There were a lot of different places where the need was great, but in the end, we settled on San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. Our mission was pretty simple. Half the time we would do bricklaying, the other half we'd play baseball.
It was a tremendous experience. Most of it, anyway. But there was one aspect of being there that was truly scary -- driving on the Dominican roads.
I bring this up because the baseball world lost two more Dominican-born players to auto accidents over the weekend, Andy Marte, who last played for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014 and spent the last two seasons in Korea, and the Kansas City Royals' young fireballer, Yordano Ventura. Marte was 33 and Ventura was just 25 years old.
There are essentially no rules of the road in the Dominican. In my experience, it was simply blind luck we made it through an intersection without getting obliterated by another on-rushing vehicle. In the World Health Organization (WHO)'s latest global status report on road safety (out in 2015), there was a staggering 29.3 road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants that year. Only 14 other countries in the world had a higher rate.
The St. Louis Cardinals lost one of their top prospects, Oscar Taveras, to a traffic death that occurred in the Dominican back in 2014. He wasn't the first and, as we unfortunately saw this weekend, he wasn't the last.
Marte's MLB career spanned seven seasons, where he was a utility bench player with three franchises. Ventura's career had a little more on-field impact.
If nothing else, his time with the Royals was certainly interesting. He went 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA in 93 career starts over three full seasons as a starter. When he burst onto the scene in 2014, he led all of baseball in average fastball velocity (97.0 mph) while helping the Royals advance to the World Series for the first time since 1985.
He did the same thing again the following year, with an average fastball velocity of 96.4 mph, and this time, he helped Kansas City win it all. He finished second in this department last year (96.1 mph), behind the ridiculous Noah Syndergaard (98.0 mph), but the point is clear - Ventura had a huge arm.
His signature performance came in Game 6 of the 2014 Fall Classic when the rookie pitched 7 innings of 3-hit, no-run ball and helped the Royals force a Game 7.
And here he was last August delivering a 1-run, 7-strikeout performance over 6.1 innings against the Detroit Tigers.
The talent just oozed out of his body, but he was by no means perfect.
Despite a fastball that had the highest average velocity over the course of three seasons, his 7.76 strikeouts per nine (K/9) ranked only 54th out of 132 qualified MLB pitchers during that time. He walked a lot of guys (3.47 BB/9 was 17th-highest in baseball over that stretch), and his 3.91 ERA ranked just 64th over the past three seasons.
He just hadn't been able to put it all together yet.
Ventura also got into a few high-profile on-field scuffles during his brief career, including getting ejected twice in his first four starts in 2015. But many close to him saw a maturing player, and at just 25 years old, one who had another decade to grow and become a more complete pitcher and person.
Sadly, he'll never get that chance.
And now, the Royals must move on without one of their best starting pitchers in 2017, much like the Miami Marlins must soldier on without their ace, Jose Fernandez. It's likely team officials aren't thinking too hard about that right now, though.
The death of Ventura is a devastating loss for Kansas City, as well as all of baseball, extinguishing a light that had so much time to burn even brighter.