I probably shouldn’t even mention it, but we all know spring training games are meaningless, especially early spring games. But while I was watching yesterday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, something caught my attention. I was impressed to hear that the Pirates have three potential left-handed relievers in their bullpen. So that got me thinking about the Yankees left-handed bullpen situation. Do we have a few good lefties, or will it be the Achilles heel of the entire bullpen this season?
Let’s start with the Matt Thornton, whom the Yankees signed to replace the talented Boone Logan. To fill the void, GM Brian Cashman signed the 37-year-old Thornton to a 2-year $7 million dollar deal. Thornton was an All-Star in 2010 with the Chicago White Sox. He was not only effective against lefties, but he was also good against right-handed batters. But since that 2010 season, his numbers have declined. Last season he was derailed with an oblique injury after being traded to the Boston Red Sox from Chicago. He appeared in a combined total of 60 games in 2013 between Chicago (40) and Boston (20). He’s fully healthy from his oblique injury, and is ready for his role as the Yankees lefty specialist. The Yankees hope Thornton can be the effective reliever he once was for almost an entire decade.
Now after Thornton, the real question marks start to pile up for the Yankees. There are several left-handed relievers in camp, but do any of them really stick out to you? Well there is one guy that sticks out to me. He is Cesar Cabral.
The young lefty showed some promise during last season’s September call-ups. I happened to be at the Stadium during one of his appearances last year. I watched him warm-up in the bullpen and come out and have a fairly successfull outing. In his limited 2013, he appeared in 8 games, pitched 3.2 innings and had a 2.45 ERA. He was impressive against left-handed hitters. Of the nine lefty batters he faced he only allowed one to reach base, and he struck out 6 of them. He’s shown promise, and looks to be the Yankees other left-handed reliever coming out of the pen this season.
The next name on the list is Manny Banuelos. ManBan is one of the many X-factors this season. Banuelos has basically missed two seasons with an elbow injury, which resulted in Tommy John surgery. Although he hasn’t thrown a pitch since May 2012, the good news is he’s healthy and has started a regular throwing program this spring. But what we can expect from Banuelos? If he has a good spring training, the safe thing to do is have him start the season in Scranton. That seems to be what the team is also thinking. While he has a shot to make the 25-man roster right out of the gate, the chances will be slim. Banuelos will make an impact this season for the Yankees, but we have to be patient with him. He will probably be under some type of “Joba Rules” this year, but to what extent? Nobody knows. Banuelos is still young, he’s going to be 23 in March, so at least he still has time on his side. Its going to be interesting to see how he performs this spring.
We can’t forget about Vidal Nuno. Nuno made some spot starts for the team last season, but his season was cut short due to injury. This spring Nuno is competing for the final spot in the rotation. While he does have a chance to win that coveted number fifth spot, his real chance to make the team will be via the bullpen. As he showcases his stuff this spring, Girardi and company will be looking at him to be the possible long man in the pen, or even as the backup to Matt Thornton. Nuno doesn’t have a killer fastball, but he’s your classic location pitcher. He throws strikes, that’s what makes him effective. He didn’t look bad his first start this on Tuesday, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out two. Nobody is sure what the Yankees will do with Nuno, my guess is he starts the season in Scranton as a starter, but he will see action with big club this season at some point.
There is one last lefty I want to mention. Francisco Rondon, a non-roster invitee. He started out as a starter in Trenton last year, but after some struggles he was moved into the bullpen where he showed vast improvements. His relief numbers in Trenton were 46.1 innings pitched with a 2.14 ERA. He gave up 11 earned runs on 27 hits and struck out 57 against 198 batters faced coming out of the ‘pen. He was then moved up to Scranton where he made only a few appearances out of the bullpen. His numbers weren’t great, but he only pitched a total of 5.2 innings with the Rail-Riders. Rondon will be fighting for a spot on the 40-man roster. He is someone to keep an eye on this spring and during the season.