Perhaps you were expecting the usual Saturday morning two-start pitchers post, but it’s All Star week and there are no two-starters. The timing works out well, though – I’ve been vacationing south of the border and had to skip one of our precious Scouting the Unknown posts. We’ll fit that one in now.
We’ve written plenty about Ventura in our Minor Developments reports over the past couple years, usually in the profiles-as-a-dominant-closer context. I suppose it’s tough to escape that outlook when you stand 5-11, 180 (he’s put on considerable weight over the past year to get even that big), and you chuck 100 mile-per-hour fastballs. There just aren’t many pitchers with that sort of frame who can sustain that sort of stuff over a full-season workload. He doesn’t pass the “eye test”, the scouts would say. He’s passing every other test there is, however.
Ventura played at High- and Double-A in 2012, posting a 3.62 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, and a K/9 at 10.7 across the two levels. The huge whiff figures are of no surprise considering the fastball, which is delivered with ease and sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. He returned to Double-A Northwest Arkansas to begin 2013, but this time with vastly improved secondary offerings. His curveball has always flashed big upside, but his changeup has taken huge strides forward this season, and the overall results have been impressive: 2.34 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 11.5 K/9 in 11 starts with Northwest Arkansas. Kansas City then moved the 22-year-old to Triple-A Omaha, where his numbers have regressed (5.19 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 9.35 K/9), but much of that regression can be attributed to lousy luck on the batted ball side of things (his FIP reads 3.52). The Royals are as intent as ever to continue Ventura’s development as a starter, and while it’s unlikely that we’ll see him in Kansas City this season, he figures to play a sizeable role in the fantasy game for 2014. If you’re seeking big K upside, look no further.
Maikel Franco is a dude who’s been popping up in our minor league reports quite a bit lately. There’s good reason for that: he’s friggin’ mashing this year. Admittedly, I wasn’t big on Franco in the preseason, ranking him 7th in my 2013 Phillies preview. But I wasn’t entirely down on him either. Here’s what I wrote: “Franco started slow at Low-A, but turned things around with a huge second half, ending up with a line at .280/.336/.439. He can hit, and the power projection is certainly there, but physically, the 20-year-old is very raw, allowing some uncertainty about his ability to stick at third. Franco is an intriguing prospect and a guy to keep an eye on, nonetheless.” See, it wasn’t all bad, but the #7 ranking sure seems dumb in hindsight. Were I re-ranking now, he’d be #1 (yes, ahead of Biddle – not by much, but when it comes to fantasy forecasting, you gotta go with the hitter over the pitcher).
Franco, age 20, began the year at High-A and hit .299/.349/.576 with 40 XBH (16 HR) through 289 PA at Clearwater. That level of production earned him a call-up to Double-A Reading last month, and through his first 19 games there, he’s posted an unreal line: .392/.400/.671 with 5 more long balls. The jump from A-ball to Double-A is considered the biggest leap in baseball, aside from, of course, the jump from wherever to the bigs. What Franco has been doing at Reading over these past few weeks is truly special. And while questions still remain about his long-term defensive projection, it’s appearing more and more likely that his bat will bring him to the bigs – and make him a significant fantasy asset – regardless of where he ends up in the field.
Note: I’m still in Mexico. Was supposed to return to Chicago last night but my flight was cancelled and now I’m back at my resort, sipping a boozy beverage. Poor me. Anyway, this all came about very last-minute, so I’m hoping one of my Razzball colleagues will be able to field your questions this morning. If not, I’ll be back stateside late afternoon-ish (I hope), and I’ll talk to you then.