By the time the 2011 season is complete, Manny Banuelos could have Yankees fans asking what all the pitching concern was about leading up to spring training.
Following an offseason where the Yankees lost out in the bidding to land prized starter Cliff Lee, as well as the retirement of Andy Pettitte, the Yankees could use a boost in their rotation.
Surprisingly, all the hype this spring has been about a homegrown prospect that could provide the answer to filling the current void in the rotation.
Before last season, not many people outside the Yankees organization had heard of Manny Banuelos.
“Probably most people couldn’t pronounce his name before camp, but I think they can now do it accurately,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in regards to Banuelos.
Manny has been turning heads this spring, most recently with an impressive spot start against the rival Boston Red Sox in the two teams' final spring matchup. Banuelos threw 2.2 scoreless innings on national TV against the Red Sox starting lineup, giving up two hits and three walks while striking out two.
In 7.2 innings pitched over four appearances this spring, he has yielded zero runs while striking out four. His calm demeanor in pressure situations, along with his spotless spring showing, has left many wondering if he is ready to step in and take one of the Yankees' five rotation spots right out of spring training.
The 20-year-old prospect from Monterrey, Mexico already has all the tools to be a successful major-league pitcher, and the fact that he is a southpaw makes him that much more of a rare commodity.
His array of plus pitches include a fastball that touches 97 MPH with good movement down in the zone, a changeup that tops out at about 78-82 MPH and has good drop and a backdoor curveball that he can consistently use to clip the outside corner. In short, he has three swing-and-miss pitches.
In addition to his plus fastball, and two plus secondary pitches, Banuelos has the accuracy of a 10-year veteran and a calm demeanor in pressure situations. The number of lefty major-league pitchers that have three plus pitches with the ability to reach the upper 90s, all while maintaining excellent command, is a very short list.
Last season Manny tore through High-A ball while pitching for the Yankees' minor-league affiliate in Tampa, Florida. Banuelos entered last season already a highly touted prospect and then improved his fastball, added a sharper break to his curve and emerged a front of the rotation ace in the making.
Despite his rapid improvement and strong spring showing, Brian Cashman has insisted that Banuelos will not make the Yankees' major-league roster out of spring training; instead, he is slated to start the season at Double-A Trenton.
“He’s going to the minor leagues to pitch in the rotation,” Cashman told NorthJersey.com. “He’s not making this team. The plan is to finish off his development program, and at some point if he stays healthy and is very successful, he can pitch himself into the mix for us in New York. But that’s not something we’re thinking about right now.”
Manager Joe Girardi offered a slightly brighter glimpse into Banuelos' future with the Yankees this season.
“It’s been talked about that he’s going to the minor leagues, but I don’t ever say anything is a hundred percent,” Girardi said. “Sometimes your needs change in a hurry around here. I don’t want a guy to think there’s no hope. He’s in major league camp, show us what you can do. ... That carrot’s out there.”
Girardi could simply be offering some motivation to his prized young pitcher, but he also realizes he has a unique young pitcher on his hands that has the ability and talents to be an impact arm right away for the Yankees in a season when they could use the help.
If his performance in High-A ball last season and his spring training showing are any indication of what we can expect, Banuelos will not stay in Double-A for very long. Once he has earned his promotion to the Yankees' Triple-A club, he will be just a phone call away in the event of an injury or any struggles in the Yankees rotation.
Banuelos will be pitching on an unspecified innings limit this season, as the Yankees are being cautious not to have a repeat situation similar to Joba Chamberlain's career path in New York. Even with an innings limit, it is a safe assumption that we will see Manny Banuelos in Yankee pinstripes at some point this season, likely before the All-Star break.
When he does reach the major leagues, expect him to stick around and succeed...for a long time.