Three hot, enigmatic, young guns

When you hear the names Danny Salazar, Anthony DeSclafani and Yordano Ventura, you’re sure to have very mixed feelings about each one of the trio. All feature plus velocity (although DeSclafani a little less so) who have the ability to strikeout double digits, or give up runs in the double digits, seemingly every time they’re out there. With enough potential to become true aces, it’s left to wonder if and how they will harness their elite stuff into real results on a more consistent basis, or if inconsistency will be the consistent part about them.

Cleveland Indians LogoDanny Salazar

Such a force he was when he was called up in 2013, the Indians trusted him to be their starter in the Wild Card game against the Rays. His 30.8% strikeout rate was just absurd, and all the peripherals and pitch scouting backed up that his filth was legit. One issue Salazar had was reverse platoon splits, struggling against right-handed hitters, but surely this wouldn’t persist right? Right???!!

2014 saw the issues continue, of course, as lefties slugged only .371, but righties crushed him to a .456 tune. A lot of his issues were tied to his fastball dependence. Even though it’s an elite pitch, he wasn’t able to work off of it enough to keep hitters in check. The only other pitch that he used over 10% was the changeup, a more effective pitch to the opposite hand. His slider was the kind that young pitchers dream to develop, but Danny just wasn’t throwing it enough to dominate righties.

What we saw last season was still reliance on the change, but he ceded some of his heater usage into sinkers. Doing so allowed him to get more grounders, career 34.4% to 43.9%, as well as making it harder for righties to hit him as solidly – their slugging dropped to just .339.

Going forward, Dan-O will only be as effective overall as he is with keeping his platoon splits minimized. His fastball and slider are plus, easily, and with more sinkers he’s well on his way. Expect him to continue his upward trend, and treat his 2014 campaign as a blip on the radar.

Cincinnati Reds LogoAnthony DeSclafani

Although he has the lowest velocity of the group, he still can ramp it up to 96 when needed. This ties into his strong strikeout rates through the minors, peaking with a shiny 23.7% mark in Triple A in 2014, which earned him his first taste of the Bigs. He had decent expectations, but showed off an atrocious 6.27 ERA. Even in just a short stint, many were turned off.

But his underlying numbers were screaming that he was much better than that. The Reds organization smartly picked up on this, and snatched him up from the Marlins. His ERA shrunk to a more average 4.05, but his FIP suggest he’s even better – 3.77 and 3.67 in 2014 and 2015. His career walk rate of 6.4% shows excellent control around the strike zone, which is a veteran move for someone in his mid 20s. Overall, DeSclafani kept up enough strong work to earn his team a  3.2 fWAR, enough for a top 30 finish, strong results for a first full season.

He’s clearly a strong back-end or good middle rotation starter, but the strikeouts have yet to translate for DeSclafani, and until those happen he’s still going to be shy of an elite pitcher. His 19.0% career strikeout rate is slightly below league average over the time period, and definitely not what prospect evaluators saw from him in the minors. Like Salazar, he recently added the sinker to his repertoire, which should help him keep contact weak. But allowing so many balls to be put in play could continue his underperforming ERA compared to FIP a lasting thing. He’s a great depth add, but not great until the Ks come.

Kansas City RoyalsYordano Ventura

It’s hard to live up to expectations when you have 80 out of 80 scouting grades on your fastball, and having it rated the best heater in the minors consecutive years. Easy 100 out of a good arm slot, he was just blowing by and through the entire minor leagues. But as many pitchers who find the earlier leagues a breeze and don’t take the time to learn to really pitch, he struggled in the majors. In his debut season he struck out just 17.2% with a FIP over 5.00. But 2014 brought better results for him, thanks in part to a better developed sinker and using more curves. His strikeouts went up to a 20.3% rate, still around average, but showing improvement. His FIP was 3.60, and there was huge hope surrounding him and, at the time, the new American League champs.

The first half of 2015 was as miserable as they come. An ERA of 4.73 with only 7.2 K/9, he even earned himself a demotion down to Triple A. Adjustments clearly worked, throwing an extra 2 strikeouts per 9, dropping his FIP down to 3.27. This improvement was tied to a higher arm slot used by him, leading to more movement on his pitches which helps explain the better strikeouts.

Knowing what his improvements are, and that they are permanent, we can believe in Ventura’s second half as what to expect going forward. But Ventura might end up as someone whose sum is less than the whole of his parts, as he has amazing tools, but the numbers just haven’t aligned with what we want out of him. He’s a very strong pitcher, but he’s not creeping into the elite territory without another big change.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.