For Yordano Ventura, the 24-year-old leader of the Royals rotation, coronation will come a day early.
Twenty-four hours before Ventura makes his first opening-day start, the Royals will introduce Ventura on Sunday at a news conference to celebrate a five-year, $23 million agreement that includes a pair of team options and keeps him under club control through 2021.
The deal was finalized on Saturday. Ventura left the team at Minute Maid Park to complete a physical in Kansas City. The club announced the consummation of the deal on Saturday afternoon. The talks progressed rapidly after Ventura’s representatives approached Kansas City officials with their interest earlier this week, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The deal provides life-changing money for a player signed for $28,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. The structure stabilizes his price through his arbitration seasons and guarantees the Royals can employ him through his prime. The contract could benefit the team as they pursue potential extensions with players like Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer.
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Ventura will earn $750,000 in 2015 and $1 million in 2016. His salary will rise to $3.25 million in 2017, $6.25 million in 2018 and $9.75 million in 2019. Both of the club options are worth $12 million. Ventura also received a $1 million signing bonus. He would receive $1 million if the Royals decline either option.
The team believes that Ventura’s prime should arrive quite soon. In his rookie season, Ventura posted a 3.20 ERA in 183 innings with 159 strikeouts. He logged 25 1/3 innings in the playoffs with an identical ERA. He spun seven scoreless frames in the sixth game of the World Series, a performance that convinced Ned Yost that Ventura is capable of replacing James Shields as the team’s opening-day starter.
Ventura figured to reap the benefits of the arbitration system when he became eligible in 2017. His new contract guarantees him financial security even if his arm fails him. Given his 6-0, 180-pound frame, Ventura will always carry the risk of injury. He missed a start in May due to soreness in the interior of his right elbow and another in August due to a back issue. He underwent an MRI during the playoffs due to pain in his right shoulder.
Ventura earned acclaim for the heat of his fastball, which touches triple digits and averaged 97 mph in 2014. No starting pitcher in baseball threw harder. His appeal to the Royals lies beyond this one pitch, as team officials rave about his maturity, competitiveness and zeal for improvement.
“He has a great feel for pitching,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “Which a lot of kids at that age, with that type of arm, don’t.”
His arm allowed Ventura to stand out in the minors. Once he reached the majors in 2013, he impressed observers with his craftsmanship. Eiland tweaked Ventura’s delivery that September to help him throw strikes in the bottom half of the strike zone. When Ventura returned for spring training in 2014, Eiland noticed Ventura had not fallen back into old habits.
In Ventura, Yost spotted a “rare combination” of “fearless competitiveness” to match his talent. Ventura did not allow poor starts to deflate him and he did not allow his success to inflate his self-confidence.
“There would be times when he would feel really good and try to do too much on the mound,” Yost said. “He’s learned to stay within himself a lot better, which keeps his pitch counts lower and allows him to pitch more innings. You don’t see him get of whack nearly as much as he did last year.”
The Royals will now pay a premium to watch Ventura develop at the game’s highest level. If he can remain healthy, he possesses the ceiling of an ace.
“He’s not a finished product yet,” Eiland said. “But he’s getting there.”