Yordano Ventura: I spent the day in Surprise, Arizona, driving about an hour in traffic for really one reason: I wanted to see the Royals' Yordano Ventura pitch. I had read all the reports of his fastball hitting 102 last season. I had also read concerns about his size (he's under six feet tall), and concerns about his secondary offerings, namely his curve and changeup. The big question career-wise for Ventura is whether he will make his major league journey as a starting pitcher or a back-end reliever-- similar to the question posed of fellow flamethrower, Aroldis Chapman, when he came up with the Reds. For 2014, the the most pressing concern is whether that journey will begin in the Royals' rotation, in the Royals' bullpen or back in AAA for more seasoning.
The unfortunate news out of Royals' camp today was that righty reliever Luke Hochevar will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2014 season. Hochevar's injury opens up a spot in the bullpen, presumably for another right-hander, and presumably for either Ventura or Wade Davis-- who are both vying (along with lefty Danny Duffy) for the final spot in the big-league rotation.
After watching Ventura today, I can confirm that he can hit triple digits. In his three innings, several pitches registered 100 on the stadium gun. I can also confirm that he struggles with his off-speed stuff. His 12-to-6 curve was in the dirt most of the time, and his changeup yielded a few hits. With these pitches ineffective, hitters sat on the heat, and the San Francisco Giants scored twice off in his three innings of work. He allowed three hits, one walk and struck out two (both times Angel Pagan).
Wade Davis and Danny Duffy: By contrast, in Wade Davis's three innings following Ventura, he allowed one run on a Hunter Pence homer-- Davis seemed to be in control until he tired in his third inning of work. Based on upon this miniscule sample, I could see Davis taking Hochevar's bullpen spot and the Duffy getting the first crack at the number five spot in the rotation. That would leave Ventura to start the year in the minors.
I usually don't give much thought, fantasy-wise, to fifth-starter battles during the spring. There is so much turnover at that spot that no fifth rotation spot is safe. But with Kansas City, the fourth spot may not be safe either, considering Bruce Chen's ups and downs, which means that eventually, there could be room for both Duffy and Ventura. If Ventura can just get a little more seasoning in AAA and work on those off-speed pitches, he could be in the majors by May and be a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate this year. He's definitely worth a dollar bid in auction leagues or a late-round stash pick, even if he spends his April in Omaha.
Stay tuned for more daily updates from Arizona as RotoBaller Scott Slezak provides your daily Cactus League fantasy baseball analysis.