Monday, January 23, 2017

RIP, Ventura and Marte

Yordano Ventura before pitching Game 3 of the
2015 World Series.
Two ballplayers from the Dominican died this weekend in separate crashes in their homeland. According to the Associated Press, the Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic death rate in the world.

There are a lot of major leaguers (and minor leaguers) from the Dominican, and the deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte are just the most recent evidence that ballplayers are not immune to this Dominican carnage.

Andy Marte was a failed prospect but still playing, still hoping to hit it big. He spent 2016 in the Korean League, where he hit 22 homers but batted just .265. Ten years ago, he was a coming attraction; Baseball America rated him as the No. 14 prospect after the 2005 season, No. 9 the year before that, No. 11 the winter before that. But sometimes even the most highly touted prospects fail.

Yordano Ventura had a magic arm -- the Kansas City Royals starter averaged better than 96 mph on his fastball last season, according to the Bill James Handbook, the highest velocity among American League starters. He also had a scary temper, with multiple suspensions for throwing at hitters.

He was a decent starter in his four major league seasons, but not a great one. He might have become great, with luck and maturity -- he needed both to stay healthy and learn to control his emotions -- but he wasn't there yet, and now he never will be.

As with the Miami Marlins and the late-season death of Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, Ventura's death leaves the Royals reeling, both emotionally and strategically.

Viewed from a distance, the team was nearing a crossroads, with key pieces of the lineup approaching free agency and a farm system essentially depleated by the win-now trades that helped bring the 2015 World Series title. Ventura was supposed to be a key piece of their puzzle for a few more years. Now, less than a month before training camps open, they not only have a hole at the top of their rotation for the coming season, but one for years to come.

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