By: Noah Wright
Jonny Venters was once a young lefty set-up man for The Atlanta Braves. He has set-up 2 of the best closers in the game in the past decade, Billy Wagner, and Craig Kimbrel, but that was 2010 through 2012. Jonny Venters, now after a 6 years, and 3 Tommy John surgeries later, Venters is making one last shot at making it back to the majors.
Venters was drafted in the 30th round of The 2003 MLB draft by The Atlanta Braves as a starter. The lefty would pitch in 2004, and 2005, before undergoing his first of “3 and a half” Tommy John surgeries (as said by Venters himself) in his career. Venters would miss the 2006 season, but make a return in 2007. Though he would thrive in 2007 and 2008, Venters was never a top prospect starter, with 2007 and 2008 being the only two years as a minor leaguer, recorded an ERA under 3.90. However, Venters received his major league call-up on April 17th, 2010.
Venters made his debut on April 17th, 2010 at age 25, against The Colorado Rockies. Venters would pitch 3 innings of 3 hit, one walk, two strikeout, no run ball. Later in the year, The Braves moved the hard throwing lefty into the set-up role, to set-up veteran closer, Billy Wagner. Venters would also pitch well in the postseason, by striking out 8 across 5 and a third innings, while giving up no runs against The San Francisco Giants during the 2010 NLDS. On the year, Venters would pitch to a miniscule 1.95 ERA, while giving up 1 homerun across 83 innings (.1 HR/9), and striking out batters at a 10.1 K/9 rate. Venters would also finish 8th in Rookie Of The Year voting.
Jonny Venters entered 2011 as The Braves set-up man again, delivering the 9th to rookie closer, Craig Kimbrel. Venters was so good, he earned a spot on The NL All-Star roster, along with Kimbrel, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann. Venters would put up another very strong line, with a 1.84 ERA, while only giving up 2 homeruns in 88 innings, and a strong K/9 rate (9.8 K/9).
In 2012, his last season so far, Venters entered the season with high expectations, but underperformed. In the first half of the season, Venters put up a 4.67 ERA, while giving up more homeruns than any other full season (4), but still put up the strong K rate (10.3 K/9) in 32.1 innings. During July, Venters experienced left elbow soreness, and was placed on The DL, then reactivated at the end of July. He performed much better however in the second half of the season, lowering his ERA to 1.71 in 26.1 innings. Though he underperformed by his standards, Venters still turned in a solid 3.22 ERA, a career high, 10.6 K/9. Jonny Venters would throw his last pitch in The 2012 NL Wild Card game.
In 2013, Venters started the season on the DL with a similar injury to July 2012. He had tried to avoid surgery, but ended up having his 2nd Tommy John Surgery, and was shut down for the year. After 2013, Venters entered the 2014 season, but would suffer setbacks, and need another Tommy John surgery. After the 2014 season, Jonny Venters, now 29, was released in November 2014.
After his tenure with The Braves, Venters latched on with The Tampa Bay Rays in May 2015, on a two year, minor league deal. However, in 2016, after Venters looked to be back on track, even pitching 4 innings in The Ray’s low-A ball team,Venters would receive another large blow to his career. In July, Venters suffered a UCL tear, to what seemed to be a final blow to his career.
Venters would continue to fight to keep his career alive though. The Rays would resign Jonny Venters to a minor league deal after the 2017. During the 2017 season, Venters pitched more than 20 innings in organized baseball for the first time since 2012. He spent the season across 4 minor league levels for The Rays. He performed well, pitching to a 2.28 ERA, while showing the homerun prevention he had early in his career (0 homeruns given up across 23.2 innings).
Now on another minor league deal with The Rays, Venters looks to take one more step to making a comeback that at one point seemed impossible. Though he was optioned to The Rays’ Triple-A team recently after spring training, as it stands right now, the now 33-year-old Venters will have a very good opportunity this year to make his long awaited, and hard fought comeback.