Yordano Ventura Hernandez
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 180 lb.
- Debut September 17, 2013
- Final Game September 30, 2016
- Born June 3, 1991 in Samana, Samana D.R.
- Died January 22, 2017 in Juan Adrian, Monsenor Nouel D.R.
Pitcher Yordano Ventura reached the major leagues in 2013 but was killed in a car crash at the age of 25 after three solid seasons as a major league starter.
Ventura signed with the Kansas City Royals at age 17. The scout was Pedro Silverio and his signing bonus was $28,000, as he was considered very much a long shot at the time, because he was undersized and did not yet throw particularly hard. He had quit school two years earlier and was working construction to support his mother while chasing his baseball dream.
He debuted with the 2009 DSL Royals, going 0-1 with 3 saves and a 2.78 ERA. The next year, he appeared for both the DSL Royals (0-1, 2.31) and AZL Royals (4-2, 3.25, 58 K in 52 2/3 IP). He finished 9th in the Arizona League in ERA while hitting 100 mph on the radar gun. Baseball America rated him as the second-best Arizona League prospect after Guillermo Pimentel. They also listed him as having the best fastball in the Royals system entering 2011. In 2011, he was 4-6 with a 4.27 ERA for the Kane County Cougars, striking out 88 in 84 1/3 IP.
Yordano began 2012 with the Wilmington Blue Rocks and fared well at 3-5, 3.30 with 98 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings. He was leading the Carolina League in strikeouts. He got the call to start for the World team in the 2012 Futures Game and did a fine job, retiring Billy Hamilton, Kolten Wong and Wil Myers on three straight grounders, hitting 100 mph on 3 pitches. In the 2nd, he was replaced by Jose Fernandez. The World blew Ventura's fine start and lost, 17-5, as hurlers like Chris Reed and Ariel Pena were not nearly as sharp (Ventura's fellow Samana native Lisalverto Bonilla did not pitch). Ventura was then promoted to AA, where he was just 1-2 with a 4.60 ERA for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. He was third in the Royals chain in strikeouts behind Jake Odorizzi and Brooks Pounders. Baseball America rated him as the #8 Carolina League prospect (between J.R. Graham and Christian Villanueva) and #3 in the Royals system (behind Bubba Starling and Kyle Zimmer).
Ventura continued to bolster his stock in 2013 by doing better for the Naturals (3-2, 2.34, 74 K in 57 2/3 IP) and then going 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA for the Omaha Storm Chasers. His 155 strikeouts led Royals minor leaguers, 15 ahead of runner-up Zimmer. A September call-up, he made his major league debut as the starting pitcher for the Royals in a key game against the Cleveland Indians on September 17, 2013, with both teams battling to stay in the wild card race. He put in a solid effort, giving up only a run in 5 2/3 innings, but the bullpen failed him as Kansas City lost the game, 5-3, all of Cleveland's runs coming from the 6th inning on. He made two other starts for the Royals, finishing at 0-1, 3.52.
Ventura was given a chance to make the Royals' starting rotation in spring training in 2014 and did not waste the opportunity. He was named the team's number 3 starter, behind James Shields and Jason Vargas and ahead of veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen, beating out Danny Duffy for the spot. He made his season's debut on April 8th, pitching 6 scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays during which he gave up only 2 hits and no walks and struck out 6; unfortunately for him, his opponent, Chris Archer, also managed to pitch shutout ball, even though he was not as dominant as Ventura and the game was decided in the 9th inning in Tampa Bay's favor after both starters were long gone. He earned his first career win on April 15th, giving up 2 runs in 7 innings to defeat the Houston Astros, 4-2. He pitched another great game on April 25th, giving up no runs in 8 innings while striking out 8 in defeating the Baltimore Orioles, 5-0. On May 26th, however, he had to leave a start against the Houston Astros in the 3rd inning because of an apparent elbow injury. The injury turned out to be superficial, as he ended up making 30 starts in 31 games, with a record of 14-10, 3.20, and 159 strikeouts in 183 games. The Royals made the postseason for the first time since 1985 that season and in the Wild Card Game on September 30th, his manager, Ned Yost, made a controversial decision, bringing him in relief of James Shields in the 5th inning against the Oakland Athletics; the move almost blew up in the Royals' face as he quickly gave up a three-run homer to Brandon Moss. But the Royals were able to come back and won the game, giving Ventura an opportunity to start four games in his team's run to the seventh game of the World Series. He pitched well, going 1-0, 2.52 in 25 innings in those four starts, the win coming in Game 6 of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants on October 28th.
Back in the starting rotation at the start of 2015, Ventura was the Royals' opening day starter, then got in the news for the wrong reasons. In a start against the A's on April 18th, he was ejected from the game for throwing at Brett Lawrie immediately after Josh Reddick had homered off him. He escaped with a fine but no suspension, then in his next start on April 23rd, he sparked a brawl when he shouted something at the Chicago White Sox's Adam Eaton after fielding his comebacker to end the 7th inning, leading to another ejection. He was handed a seven-game suspension as punishment. He spent a month on the disabled list with inflammation of his ulnar nerve starting in mid-June, but pitched poorly in his two starts before and after the problem, allowing 15 earned runs in as many innings to see his record fall to 4-7, 5.19. On July 21st, the Royals announced he was being sent to AAA to work out his issues, but he was back in the majors within days and pitched better down the stretch. He finished the year at 13-8, 4.08 in 28 starts with 156 strikeouts in 163 1/3 innings. He made five starts in the postseason but did not win once and was charged with the Royals' lone loss to the New York Mets in the 2015 World Series but still ended up with a ring.
On June 7, 2016, he started a brawl in a game against the Baltimore Orioles by throwing a fastball in Manny Machado's back, after the two had had words in Machado's previous at-bat. Both players were ejected. After the game, a number of Orioles players stated that Ventura should cool his temper before he hurt someone badly. He received a nine-game suspension, which was reduced to eight games on appeal. He made 23 starts that season, ending up at 11-12, 4.45 with 144 Ks in 186 innings. It turned out to be the final season of his career. In three season and part of another, he was a combined 38-31, 3.89 with 470 Ks in 547 2/3 innings.
He was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on January 22, 2017; sadly there were two separate accidents both costing a player his life in the D.R. that night, as infielder Andy Marte also perished in a separate accident. Yohan was the sole occupant of the vehicle which crashed near San Jose de Ocoa; there was heavy fog in a mountainous area, and he was not wearing a seat belt.
He was nicknamed "Ace" by Royals fans in honor of his pitching prowess but also of the classic 1990s comedy, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The Royals wore a patch inscribed with the words "Ace 30" on a black background on the right sleeves of their uniforms during the 2017 season in his honor.
Two years after his passing, in 2019, there was still a dispute over the payment of the final guaranteed year of his contract, worth $20 million. This should have by rights gone to his estate, consisting of his surviving daughter who was three years old at the time of the crash. However, the Royals tried to void the payment invoking a clause in Ventura's contract that allowed the team to do so if he was injured or killed while driving while intoxicated. The toxicology report from the accident was not public, but was presumably the basis for the team refusing to make the payment. The matter was before the courts. His daughter did benefit from a trust fund set up from the pitcher's life insurance policy, valued at $12 million, however.
- Jeffrey Flanagan: "'Great kid with a big heart. We lost a brother.': Royals right-hander dies in car accident in Dominican Republic", mlb.com, January 22, 2017. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Yordano Ventura's inner fire was both his blessing and his curse", USA Today Sports, January 22, 2016. 
- Joe Posnanski: "Ventura's ascent was miraculous to witness: Pitcher developed from 'skinny, scrawny kid' to Royals' Ace", mlb.com, January 22, 2017. 
- Joe Posnanski: "Yordano left indelible mark in Kansas City: Late righty helped revive city, Royals in pennant-winning seasons", mlb.com, January 22, 2018. 
- Tom Schad: "Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura's $20 million guaranteed contract still unpaid after death", USA Today, February 13, 2019.