The path to the major leagues has been tumultuous for the New York Yankees’ top pitching prospect, Manny Banuelos. Signed as a 16-year-old out of Mexico in 2008, there were high expectations for the left-hander heading into the 2012 season after he nearly reached the major leagues last September.
However, it’s doubtful that Banuelos’ long-awaited big league debut will happen any time before late-2014, as Brian Cashman announced earlier this week that the 21-year-old needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2013 season.
The news comes on the heels of an injury-plagued campaign in which Banuelos made only six starts at Triple-A (none after May 18) before the nagging elbow sidelined him indefinitely.
The 5’11”, 200-pounder emerged as one of the top left-handed pitching prospects after reaching Double-A as a 19-year-old in 2010. However, that was also the season in which Banuelos’ once highly regarded command began to falter.
Between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, his strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped from 3.4 to 1.6 as he endured—in the face of advanced competition—the largest workload (129.2 IP) of his young career.
When he’s healthy and around the plate, Banuelos boasts three above-average-to-plus offerings. The left-hander’s fastball registers in the 89-95 mph range and seemingly explodes out of his hand. His breaking ball features late, downward bite and generates swing-and-misses when located down in the zone. And rounding out his arsenal is a changeup that’s thrown with convincing arm speed and features exceptional fade.
Tuesday’s unfortunate news is yet another major blow to Banuelos’ career, as he will now essentially miss at least two critical seasons of development.
Considering how close he was to making his big league debut in late 2011, the thought of his estimated arrival being postponed until late-2014 is disappointing. While the Yankees remain fond of their left-hander, the injury only magnifies the team’s ongoing struggle to develop young pitchers.
Although they have predominantly relied on veteran starting pitching over the years, the Yankees would still have benefited from a healthy Banuelos or a consistent Dellin Betances down the stretch of the 2012 season. I’m not saying that either player would have been a difference-maker, but giving them both a few late-season starts as a means of resting Sabathia, Hughes, Kuroda or Nova couldn’t have hurt.
With Banuelos now out for all of 2013, right-hander Ty Hensley, the Yankees’ first-round pick this past June, inherits the title as the organization’s top pitching prospect. Unfortunately, there’s a strong chance that both players will reach the major leagues at the same over the next two or three seasons. I only hope that this latest injury and subsequent setback serves as a wake-up call for the organization’s player development program.
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