Jesse Chavez, Yordano Ventura grateful for their new gigs

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Jesse Chavez
Jesse Chavez slides into the A’s rotation after a recent rash of injuries to Oakland starters. (Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports)

Two new faces have emerged from spring training in important roles for their small-market teams, both as regular starting pitchers. One hurler is at the crossroads of his career, while the other is a rookie with his first look at the show.

Door opens for Jesse Chavez in Oakland

Jesse Chavez is a 30-year-old journeyman pitcher who has been a late bloomer of sorts. After bouncing around for six years with four different organizations, he finally found a home with the Oakland A’s as a reliable mop up guy. Every team needs somebody to fill that role, and Chavez, a lanky Mexican-American from rural Southern California, was just happy to have a job.

Perhaps Jesse Chavez never realized it, but over time, he gained a fan in A’s skipper Bob Melvin, who was impressed with his reliever’s good stuff and scrappy mound demeanor. So, when Oakland’s rotation stars Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went on the shelf, the door was wide open for the veteran to take center stage.

“Jesse has always had high expectations for himself, and he’s been impressive this spring,” noted Melvin, who didn’t hesitate to pencil-in Chavez as his fifth starter.

There’s no question that Chavez has done well in camp, racking up a perfect 4-0 record with a 1.04 ERA. In his final spring start against the Chicago Cubs, the 6′-2″, 160 pound “spider” was in control as usual, throwing five scoreless innings and giving up only two hits. Then in the top of the sixth, he seemed to run out of gas and a couple of balls left the yard.

Pacing himself and keeping the ball down are two areas of concern for Jesse Chavez, and he should probably keep the four-seam fastball in his back pocket. He does, however, have a nice repertoire of pitches, including a good cutter, curve ball and change-up to keep opposing hitters off balance. The main thing that Chavez has on his side is experience and the ability to make adjustments, and he’s looking forward to his new role when the bell rings.

“I’m ready to have fun,” says Jesse with a sly smile. I have a lot of confidence in myself, and it helps that my team has the same confidence in me.”

Yordano Ventura rises to the top in Kansas City

Meanwhile, at the Kansas City Royals facility in Surprise, Arizona, it’s easy to understand why General Manager Dayton Moore saw little need to resign Ervin Santana. That’s because 22-year-old Yordano Ventura is the new Dominican on the scene, and this kid has been no “surprise.”

Or has he?

The Royals would probably like to say that there was something special about Ventura that enticed them to select him in 2008 as a 16-year-old international free agent. Truth be told, no organization really knows what to expect when they sign these mid-teens, especially pitchers. With that in mind, Kansas City didn’t exactly break the bank when they offered Ventura a measly $30,000 bonus. But the youngster accepted, and the transaction has become the mother of Caribbean investments.

After initially struggling as a pro in his home country, Ventura turned some heads during Arizona League play in 2010, and started to quickly climb the ladder. The 5′-10″, 180 pound prospect was a Futures Game selection in 2012 and 2013, and he cruised through the top two levels of minor league ball last year, even earning a cup of coffee with the varsity club. Add that to Ventura’s stellar spring this year, and his promotion to the Royals’ rotation was a no-brainer. In fact, he is slated to be the No. 3 guy behind James Shields and Jason Vargas.

Ventura’s signature start this spring was when he shut down the dangerous Texas Rangers over six innings, striking out six batters and allowing only four hits. His power fastball ranges between 98 to 101 mph on the radar gun, and the young man’s curve ball has more bite than any pitch I’ve seen on the preseason circuit.

I think it’s also interesting that Ventura hangs out a lot with Bruce Chen, the Panama-born veteran who had been looking for work until the Royals brought him in for another stint. Besides filling in the back end of the pitching rotation, Chen, for the most part, has been Ventura’s interpreter and mentor, and it seems like he’s done a damn good job.

Jesse Chavez and Yordano Ventura come from different backgrounds, but they are both Latinos who know what it’s like to start with nothing and be on the brink of success. To coin an old sports cliche, they now control their own destiny.

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