The last time Manny Bañuelos left the Yankees, it came in the wake of the Tommy John rehab that knocked his 2013 season off the map and resulted in relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve landing in the Bronx.
This minor trade stands as a spectacular microcosm of how rarely plans are executed. Carpenter was thought to be the highlight of the deal, but he posted a 4.82 ERA in 22 games in the Bronx, his final full MLB season; Shreve ended up the more impactful Bomber. Add to that the dissolving grand plans for Bañuelos, and you have a three-piece deal where not one thing turned out as anticipated.
While it seemed at the time like the Yankees were selling low on Bañuelos, they had no idea how much lower things could sink for a prospect who, once upon a time, was called a “more polished Clayton Kershaw” at the age of 20 by Russell Martin.
And when New York signed Bañuelos this offseason after stints with the Fubon Guardians of the Chinese Professional Baseball League and the Sultanes de Monterrey of the Mexican League, most didn’t bat an eye, other than giving the deal a quintessence of attention out of deference to the Killer Bs of the early 2010s. He wasn’t going to make the team anyway, so … why not just smile and nod, right?
Well, stunningly, after two separate MLB stints ending with a career 6.31 ERA (to this point), Bañuelos (now 31) has thrown the ball with poise and precision this spring, regaining his ability to miss major league bats.
Against the stacked core of the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night, Bañuelos posted his strongest outing yet, dotting corners and burying breakers for three shutout innings — and using just 33 pitches to do so.
Yankees ex-top prospect Manny Bañuelos is back.
If the only thing standing between Bañuelos and a roster spot was a sterling spring performance, he’d surely travel north for Opening Day, leaving fellow contenders JP Sears and Ron Marinaccio behind (Sears, specifically, imploded on Wednesday, allowing a three-run home run to Santiago Espinal).
Unfortunately, even with 28 men now allotted for the opener, the left-hander will also have to overcome the hurdle of being a non-roster invitee. With fellow wild card Marwin Gonzalez also in line to be added before Opening Day, that means, in order to accommodate Bañuelos, the Yankees would have to lose not one, but two, of Miguel Andújar, Stephen Ridings, Joely Rodriguez, Lucas Luetge and Estevan Florial (or Sears and Marinaccio).
Perhaps stashing Bañuelos at Triple-A and hoping the breakout is real wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but for someone who’s so close to fulfilling a prophecy from last decade, it would certainly sting just a bit. He couldn’t have done more, after all.
Of the original Killer Bs, the baby-faced Bañuelos seemed like the surest thing. The other two, Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances, were erratic giants who could either pop a catcher’s mitt or pop a camera lens with alternating pitches. Bañuelos, alternately, was as steady as they come, growing into his diminutive 5-10 frame with every offspeed pitch he unleashed.
Brackman succumbed to the unpredictable nature of “being a pitching prospect,” while Betances bloomed, hopping off the mound successfully after 621 strikeouts with the Bombers (and four All-Star appearances).
Now, against all odds, it’s Bañuelos’ turn again seven years later. Two-out-of-three ain’t bad, but the Yankees (and ManBan) deserve extra credit for the process if he bucks the odds and contributes in 2022.