I keep saying this because it rings true, but it has been quite some time since the Yankees developed a frontline starter for their own club. Many times, pitchers of this caliber are traded off for ML-ready players because the organization is always in win-now mode. That has hurt the club long-term, especially now with the self-imposed cap. However, if there’s one pitcher who has been at the top of many Yankees prospects list over the last few years, it’s Manny Banuelos.
The 22-year-old southpaw out of Mexico has carved out quite a nice career so far in the minors. He signed with the team back in 2009 and has quickly made his way through the lower levels. In fact, he almost made the big club in 2012 after a few great pitching performances in Spring Training, but the Yankees wanted to give him more time to season in the minors.
Before we move on to some numbers, it’s worth noting that he’s had trouble staying healthy over his young career. Most notably, last year he suffered elbow issues that forced the club rest him in hopes it would work itself out. However, in the worst case scenario possible, he had to have Tommy John surgery in October, which will require him to sit out the entire 2013 season. That is development time lost, but hopefully he makes a quick recovery.
Now that that’s out of the way, Man-Ban features a fastball that touches 96 mph, but regularly stays in the 91-93 mph range. His fastball also has tailing action on it, which he can steer away from lefties and drive it right into the fists of righties. His choice of secondary pitches is what will likely keep him in the majors for a long time. He has a plus curveball with sharp break, while having a changeup that dips considerably.
As with any pitcher, control is key. Man-Ban has had trouble over the past few seasons throwing strikes and has seen his walk rate skyrocket. For instance, in 2010 he made stops at four different levels of the minors and this is how his numbers shook out:
Click to enlarge
What immediately jumps out is how his walk rate jumped almost two full percentage points when he moved from A+ to AA (from 2.84 BB/9 to 4.70 BB/9). Sure, there are better hitters in the AA level, but he continued that trend into 2011, and into 2012 before he was shut down for the season. Hopefully his walk-rate problem stem from elbow trouble, and that the Yankees will take this time to refine his mechanics and delivery.
One good aspect to Banuelos’ game is that he can strike guys out. He has averaged around eight strikeouts per nine innings in the higher levels, but in the above graph, in over 10 starts at Charleston (A+ level) he averaged more than 12.5 K’s per nine. He does have swing-and-miss stuff, and his live fastball only serves to set up his good offspeed offerings.
The kid has a ton of upside, especially since he’s a lefty. He’ll be given every opportunity to succeed in pinstripes. Given his injury, he likely won’t be in the Bronx until 2015, as they will use 2014 to get him back on track. He has frontline potential and the Yankees sorely need that given that many of their other pitching prospects of note in recent years (Andrew Brackman, Joba Chamberlain, Dellin Betances, Phil Hughes) haven’t panned out as they would have hoped.
Stats and graph courtesy of FanGraphs