This past weekend saw some improved control, some extended hitting streaks, and a few prospects who might be worth watching after all.
Manny Banuelos, LHP, Yankees (Triple-A Empire State)
On April 12, in his second start of the year, Banuelos walked six over two innings and then hit the disabled list with a minor back injury. The back was clearly affecting his delivery, but control was an issue in 2011 as well, and whether it's getting healthy or just a good run, he's suddenly turned into a strike-throwing machine. Since his return to the rotation—and including six outstanding innings on Sunday—Banuelos has reeled off 14 2/3 innings without issuing a walk, and he's done it without ratcheting down his stuff in terms of velocity or break. It's too early to get excited here, but with both Banuelos and Betances pitching well of late, maybe the Yankees will trust their own this year when a need arrives.
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Some young prospects might be getting their assignments to minor league camp right now, but not before scouts get to see who has impressed and who has not.
Now that we're approaching mid-March, early cuts have begun at spring training sites. For some this makes the games more interesting, as the big leaguers play more innings; for others, the earlier games are the ones to watch since the younger players get to play more, even if they're not as polished. Many scouts fall into the latter group, as early games mean extended looks at 2011 draft picks, or introductions to big-name prospects who play for organizations the scouts don't normally cover. So before all of the prospects head down to minor league camp, here are some players opening scout's eyes–for good or bad reasons–in Florida so far.
Parks dishes pessimism on Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, and more.
Prospect #1: C Gary Sanchez Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources. Who: Sanchez, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic for a cool $3 million, is one of the most promising offensive prospects in the minors. He has precocious in-game power, a projectable and playable hit tool, and a game plan at the plate that goes beyond “grip the bat and swing as hard as possible.” Sanchez was only 18 years old when he made his full-season debut in 2011, but he managed to slug .485 against much older competition in the prospect-heavy Sally League. His work behind the plate wasn’t as attractive, and there are already whispers of a future position switch. The arm is plenty strong and the necessary athleticism is present to handle the physical demands of the position, but his receiving ability is immature and will require years of additional development. The catch here is that Sanchez’s bat is setting an accelerated timetable that his glove development won’t be able to match strides with.
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Sanchez is a hitter who seems to see the ball very well; he tracks and diagnoses pitches like a much more experienced player. In High-A, the young right-hander will no doubt face a more advanced secondary sequence, and despite the good pitch-recognition skills, the characteristics of his swing could limit his ability to make contact against such offerings. Like most power hitters, Sanchez has a leveraged swing with length and loft, making him susceptible to inner-half velocity and off-speed stuff that will require barrel manipulation to stay on. Sanchez has a good feel for hitting, but I don’t think the hit tool can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the power, which should end up as an easy 70 on the 20/80 scale, and possibly a legit 80 at the top of his developmental arc. The explosion that occurs on contact is loud and violent and sexy and people will pay money to see it and the skies will turn red with the blood of his enemies, but the hitchy trigger and the lengthy path to the ball make exploitation possible. However, it should be noted that Sanchez’s offensive game doesn’t have the glaring weaknesses that scar the faces of most prospects his age. This is a minor nitpick. Sanchez could be very special at the plate. I want to have a son and name him Gary.
Manny's departure exposes the Rays' lack of depth, but every team in the division has holes in key areas.
Growing up a Yankees fan, I came to both fear and respect Manny Ramirez. First with the Indians and later with the Red Sox, Manny had a tendency to haunt the Yankees at every opportunity. His lifetime batting line against the Bombers—.322/.413/.617, with 55 home runs in 203 games—is a testament to his ability. Although his goofy antics on and off the field offended purists, his swing was pure. Nonetheless, he has likely retired his way out of Cooperstown.
Of more immediate concern is the impact that Ramirez’s retirement will have on the Tampa Bay Rays. The defending division champions signed Ramirez to a one-year, $2 million contract with the idea that he would anchor a lineup that had lost key players such as Carl Crawford to free agency. His departure highlights the Rays’ lack of depth, a problem plaguing all of the AL East’s top teams.
With the hype machine firing on all cylinders, Yankee phenom Manny Banuelos took the mound on Monday night in a nationally televised game against the big-league lineup of the Boston Red Sox just one day after his 20th birthday. While he struggled with his command at times, he was otherwise worthy of the praise he's been receiving, as he showcased well above-average velocity and an outstanding changeup that generated silly-looking swings from two of Boston's best hitters, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. One scout watching the game said he was tempted to put an 80—the highest possible score—on the pitch.