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January 24, 2017

Deep, But Playable

Ventura and Marte

by Craig Goldstein

Major League Baseball lost two family members this weekend, as both Andy Marte and Yordano Ventura died in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic. They were about as far away from each other as players as two individuals can get while remaining in the public consciousness.

Ventura was a pitcher; a firecracker; a World Series winner; a violator and enforcer of the unwritten rules. Marte was third baseman, then a first baseman; not much of a hitter at the major-league level; and above all a cautionary tale for over-hyped prospects.

Ventura signed in 2008 for $28,000 as a 17-year-old who threw in the upper 80s. He emerged in the majors firing flame-licked fastballs in the upper 90s, with movement. He arrived at the tail end of the 2013 season and his first two full seasons in the majors ended with World Series runs. Marte signed in 2000 for $600,000 (no paltry sum, given the era) and was immediately a five-tool talent. The Braves pushed him to full-season ball at 18, with only 37 games of pro experience under his belt, and he flourished, as he did the rest of the way through the minors. While he debuted in 2005, Marte never truly arrived. His best production in the majors was a .708 OPS during a 50-game stint in Cleveland, and that came with a .287 OBP. He last played in the majors in 2014. Ventura was a star; Marte was starcrossed.

Marte was a prospect before the prospect boom hit, ranking in Baseball America’s top 15 three separate times and in their top 50 four times, starting before he had even played in full-season ball. Ventura, though he signed in 2008, didn’t appear on a list of any kind until prior to the 2013 season, by which time he had reached Double-A. Still, we know more about Ventura than we do Marte, in part because Ventura was good enough to stay and more than enough of a showman to retain our attention.

The Royals pitcher was defined, chiefly, by three things that were perhaps inextricable from one another. His frame, long called into question during his time as a prospect, was thin enough that Mr. Creosote could be tempted. His temper led to more than one suspension, as he fearlessly, perhaps unreasonably, defended his teammates. Then there was his fastball. It was a turbo-charged poison dart that enabled his swagger and tenacity.

It’s easier to be fearless when you have 99 in your back pocket. And who is to say that he didn’t have a chip on his shoulder due to his unconventional frame. Still, it is speed, more than anything else, that comes to mind when summoning Ventura, and it is speed that might well have taken him away from us. Per Yahoo! Sports Big League Stew:

Authorities in the Dominican Republic said Monday they hadn’t submitted the accident report yet, according to the Associated Press, but they think speed may have been the cause of the accident. However, Angela Martinez, the mother of Ventura’s daughter, said he was often cautious not to speed, because of the accident that killed his friend, fellow MLB player and countryman Oscar Tavares.

Years will pass and the bitterness of two men cut down before their time will fade. We will start to remember them more by their numbers than by their emotional impact, their personas. Numbers have a way of making those things ephemeral. The impact on the clubhouse each offered, their smiles, their temperaments, will all become background. Where there was one cautionary tale of opportunities missed, there are now two. Two men from such similar yet disparate circumstances will forever be entwined in our minds, and perhaps that’s how it should be.

Andy Marte’s final game as a major leaguer was August 6, 2014 against Kansas City. The Royals' starter that day? Yordano Ventura. Of course, Marte came in as a pinch-hitter and never faced him.

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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