I spent the better part of last week traveling across the state of Florida to see the Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League (FSL).
This step, from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa, is great for these kids, as they get special treatment with shorter bus rides (their longest trip is to Jupiter and Port St. Lucie, a mere four hour ride) than when playing in the Sally League.*
*I talked with Graham Stoneburner and Shaeffer Hall, two mid-season promotions from Charleston, and they both agreed the shorter bus rides were a relief. Stoneburner mentioned the 14-hour ride from Charleston to Lakewood, NJ for a four-game set was too long.
Charleston has to make that trip again in late July.
And they get to play ball in George M. Steinbrenner Stadium, the same building which the major leaguers ply their trade every spring training. One issue I saw with the FSL is that the stands are mostly empty.
The Sally League gets many more paying customers.
This Tampa team has a few good young hitters, and a couple other decent position players.
The meat and potatoes of this team, however, is the pitching staff. At the time of my witnessing these games, there had been two former Tampa starting pitchers promoted to Double-A Trenton (Hector Noesi and Andrew Brackman ), plus another who likely would be moving up soon in Adam Warren .
And on the day I returned from Tampa, Warren was indeed promoted to Trenton .
Even after the promotions, The Tampa rotation continues to be good, with the additions of those two Charleston call ups, right-handed flamethrower Graham Stoneburner and left-handed control artist Shaeffer Hall .
These roster moves gave the Tampa Yankees a rotation of Warren, Stoneburner, Hall, Dellin Betances , and Manuel Banuelos . Both Betances and Banuelos are coming off injuries, with Dellin having elbow surgery last season and Man-Ban having an appendectomy this past spring.
I did not see Betances in either of his starts, so I will not be commenting on anything specific.
All five starters are good enough to eventually pitch in Trenton, a few of them now. Here are my capsules on the first two pitchers, Adam Warren and Manuel Banuelos, with their abilities.
A comparison major leaguer who is similar in style, but this does not mean the specific Tampa pitcher will have that type of career.
Adam Warren: RHP 6'1", 200 lbs.
Since he has already been promoted, lets start with him. Two words: Nothing special. But that is not a negative.
He does not have mind-blowing velocity, not a single dominant pitch where you say, "wow, this kid has great stuff."
But he is going to be really good.
I saw him twice, and he was exactly the same both times. Warren keeps everything down in the zone, with a four-seam fastball, a tremendous sinking fastball, smart change up and a slider/cutter.
He did throw a curve ball, but not very much.
Warren has a very easy delivery, "straight to the plate" on every pitch. He lands with a slightly closed front foot and uses his thick lower body to create nice hip rotation, giving him that good velocity.
Everything was thrown for strikes, and with Warren moving the ball in and out very well, he was effective in getting swings and misses on all of his pitches.
He faced the same team, the Brevard County Manatees, both times, and was more effective the second time around. The first game saw him go seven innings, allowing five hits, but two walks and a hit batter. He got out of two jams, allowing a single unearned run.
In game two, however, Warren was flat out dominant. He only threw five innings, allowing four hits and no walks while striking out nine Manatees.
It was interesting, but Warren was rarely ahead of any hitters in the second game, regularly going to three ball counts early in the game. But he always came back to get the strikeout or obtain a weakly batted ball.
Warren will keep a hitter's BABIP way down with the way he comes inside with his hard sinking fastball.
That pitch was usually 91-93 MPH, but he did ratchet it up to 94 a few times in the fourth and fifth innings, and hit 95 in the fourth inning. His change up was around 81, and his slider came in anywhere from 82-85.
As I said, Warren does not have one great pitch, but knows how to pitch. He sends hitters back to the bench feeling comfortable with their zero per night.
They weren't dominated with great stuff, just great pitching.
After the fifth inning one of the pitchers said, "he is probably done for tonight." There was a feeling around the players that Warren was probably going to be promoted soon. There were no more statements to be made about pitching in the FSL.
When I asked about a possible promotion, Warren was a typical Yankee farmhand. He took the traditional Yankee high road and said he had "no control over those matters," and he will pitch "wherever they want me to."
On the mound, Warren reminds me of Greg Maddux, with his ability to throw all his pitches for strikes, issuing very few walks and with great ball movement.
Still, with quite a few starting pitcher prospects above Warren (McAllister, Nova, Noesi, DJ Mitchell, David Phelps) and a few equal (Brackman, plus a few others in Tampa), Warren is the kind of a guy who can be a major trade chip one day.
He was, in fact, later offered to Seattle for Cliff Lee as a replacement for David Adams.
Manuel Banuelos: LHP 5'10", 155 lbs.
I saw Banuelos throw twice, again both against Brevard County, and he was pretty darn good both times.
Banuelos, a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher culled from the Mexican League, is listed as 5'10" but is no bigger than me, and I am only 5'9".
But what Man-Ban lacks in height, he makes up for in repertoire, pitch command, and poise. And not necessarily ranked in that order.
Watching him warm up for the first game, I saw a very smooth and easy delivery. He does not swing the pitching arm back with a high lead elbow, putting less stress on his elbow and shoulder. His front foot plants in the same spot every time, a good sign towards a pitcher repeating his delivery pitch after pitch.
And Banuelos does repeat his easy delivery. He locates all three of his pitches where he wants almost all the time. If he misses with a pitch, most of the time he misses down, especially with his dynamite 12-6 curve ball.
And that curve ball is just one of three out pitches Banuelos displayed that Tuesday night . He threw that pitch inside and outside, getting called strikes on some, weakly hit ground balls on a few, and swinging strikes on many.
Banuelos started that game by allowing three straight hard-hit singles, and his first earned run in two FSL starts. All three hits were on pitches over the plate, and two of the batters fought off some tough pitches prior to getting their knocks.
But Manny settled down, striking out the next three hitters (two looking) on a called fastball away, swinging change-up away, and called inside curve to a right-handed hitter. All three hitters were set up beautifully, giving credit to veteran backstop/1B Myron Leslie.
But Banuelos threw the pitches to the right spots when he needed to, and he dominated the Brevard County lineup after those first three hitters.
While the curve ball is really good (75-76 MPH all night), and the fastball is solid (92-93 MPH all night, touching 94 twice) with a slight tailing action to right-handed hitters, it is Banuelos' change up which is going to get him through the system in a hurry.
The change was thrown consistently in the 80-82 MPH range with precise location. He generated lots of swing and misses all night on this pitch, painting the outside corner with it at will.
After one swing and a miss on a pinpoint change-up, I said to myself, "that was really an unfair pitch."
One Tampa Yankees hurler who was seated behind the back stop charting pitches said that Banuelos is "unreal." This player also said, "I have not seen anything like him so far in pro-ball."
His second start was similar to his first, but Manny went five full innings and was more economical with his pitches. The only blemish was a fifth inning, two-run home run to right centerfield by a right-handed hitter. It was on a change-up which crossed too high over the plate. It registered 84 MPH, as opposed to the usual 80-81, which might be the reason it stayed high.
The ball was hit well, and was one of only two pitches left up in the zone by Banuelos during both outings.
One issue I have with Banuelos was his pick off move to first base. It was predictable and easy to recognize. There were three successful stolen bases (on three attempts) off him the first game.
He did change things around, and while there were three steal attempts (one successful) in the second game, one runner was thrown out by Jose Gil, and the second guy was picked off first. Banuelos did not throw over two pitches in a row in the first game, but did so on the pickoff.
It was good to see him adjust his pickoff move, but it still has to improve.
Banuelos was not afraid to throw his off-speed pitches in favorable hitters counts, and as the games moved along it was very unpredictable what he would throw. He threw many back-to-back change ups, which shows Banuelos is confident in his pitches. He was not afraid to possibly put on man on via a walk, because he has the pitches to generate strikeouts or a quick double play ground ball.
He showed tremendous confidence in throwing strikes when behind in the count, seemingly not caring as he continued to throw his off speed stuff at anytime. And when a right-handed hitter began to lean out over the plate, he busted them inside with a curve or 93 MPH fastball.
As I said earlier, Banuelos will make his bones with that great change-up, a pitch which is very similar to Johan Santana's. However, Santana can get away with his change-up higher in the zone while Banuelos so far has not.
In my next report, the capsules will be on Shaeffer Hall and Graham Stoneburner, plus some thoughts on several of the Tampa Yankee position players.