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.
With the Yankee rotation in more than a bit of flux, the calls from fans for Banuelos to be part of the immediate solution continue. He'll make at least one more appearance with the big-league team, likely on Saturday, but he's going to the minors after that, and it's the right decision for the Yankees' long-term picture.
Twenty-year-old starting pitchers in the big leagues are a rarity, but having a player like Banuelos, who has made just three starts above A-ball, in the big leagues would be nearly unprecedented. Just 17 pitchers this decade have come up as starters prior to their 21st birthday, and the one constant among them was a full workload the previous year, as they averaged more than 140 innings in the year prior to their debut, with all 17 pitching at least 100 frames. In addition, only three of the seventeen, CC Sabathia (2001), Jeremy Bonderman (2003), and Rick Porcello (2009) opened their debut year in the majors, with the remaining 14 averaging more than 100 minor-league innings in the season they first got the call.
Make no mistake about it, Banuelos could at the very least hold his own in the big leagues right now, but the real question revolves around the question of how long he could do it. He's never thrown more than 109 innings in any one season, and last year he threw just 65 after an emergency appendectomy delayed the beginning of his season until June. With many teams believing in no more than a 50 percent increase in workload as a basic rule, that would line Banuelos up for 100 frames this year, and even a plan with fewer limitations would still likely keep him under 125. "He has everything he needs to succeed in the big leagues except the ability to handle the workload," said one AL executive. "They need to stretch him out, get him 100 safe innings, and medical people will tell you that if you jump his innings in a big-league environment, that would be an even bigger risk."
That means that even if the Yankees opened the year with Banuelos in their rotation, they'd almost certainly be unable to finish it with him, or have him available for the all-important post-season. One National League executive saw breaking camp with Banuelos as a potential public-relations problem no matter how he pitched. "If he fails, then they're losing games and they've rushed him, and it could hurt him long-term in terms of confidence," the exec explained. "But what if he starts off gangbusters and he's 9-2 in July, has pitched 100 innings and they're batting Boston in the American League East?" he asked. "Are they going to shut him down? How do you think that will go over with the fans and the New York press? I bet there was a part of Yankees brass that was hoping he got tagged on Monday so they could just treat him like a normal prospect." The American League executive mostly agreed, but also admitted to what are at times special circumstances in the Big Apple. "Every other team in baseball would say we're going to build this guy up in the minors, but the Yankees always need to win now, and he's their best guy," he explained. "They are not a team that ever likes to go with placeholders."
Opening the year at Double-A Trenton is best for both the Yankees and Banuelos. His innings and pitch counts can become the core of his development, without any concern for the score or the standings, and he can still work on harnessing what is already a good arsenal, but is still unquestionably a work in progress. While Joe Girardi continues to to not rule anything out, Yankees brass insists he's going to the minors, with a focus on his long-term development. "There are few guys that can bypass Triple-A, and even fewer than can all but skip Double-A," said Mark Newman, the Yankees' Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations. "We understand the excitement, and when we sit behind the net and watch him, we get excited too, but we have to be objective and rational and he still has things to do in terms of pitch development."
In the end, the question of Banuelos' readiness is less about the prospect and more about the failures of the Yankees to shore up their rotation in the offseason by putting all their eggs in the baskets of Cliff Lee and the anticipated return of Andy Pettitte. "If A.J. Burnett is their number five starter, everyone is happy in Yankees land," said the National League executive. "If they signed Lee; if Pettitte came back, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Just because the Yankees [screwed] up this off-season doesn't mean they should sacrifice this kid in the process."
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
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With the Banuelos hype machine in full swing, it begs the question...why hasn't this guy been named among those like Pineda, Scheppers, Feliz, Hellickson, Chapman, and Drabek?
Color me skeptical at this point.
And: 1) Chamberlain is really good and still only 24; 2) Melky was only ever hyped by those who didn't know anything; 3) Arodys is a great prospect, I don't see how he was overhyped the guy's not even 20 yet.
(2) Similarly, Melky was never, ever, a hyped prospect. There was a brief time when it was popular to ask the question of why, with his excellent performance at such a young age in the high minors, he *wasn't* being hyped more. But that's the extent of it.
(3) Yankee hype machine comments are, at best, a little dated, and at worst, completely inapplicable to the present reality. You mentioned Jesus yourself, but many top Yankee prospects have panned out in recent years, whether for New York or another team, certainly no fewer than those of the average team. In particular, health permitting, Arodys Vizcaino is going to be a beast. I think Kevin can speak to this better than me, but I would assume he was only down on some of the off-season top 100 lists (in the 90's on BA, I believe, and KG's got him right at 50) because of the health question mark raised by the partial ligament tear last year. He seems to have answered the health question this spring, and that answer happens to have 3 digits. So there's that.
(4) Finally, Banuelos *is* getting named along with these other high end SP prospects, as another has already commented. And it's clearly not only Yankees brass who are "hyping" him right now, so your inherent skepticism would not seem justified. For that matter, and yes this is pure anecdote, but... having watched Manny pitch in person twice last week, and having been blown away, both by the stuff and the poise, I can't understand how anybody who has ever seen him pitch would make a comment like this.
So, you know... there's a lot of things that you say in your post that are just plain wrong, all of which would be fine, except that the confidence with which you're saying them sort of compounds things and might have rubbed some the wrong way. I'm really not a big proponent of the minusing, but since you don't seem to recognize why it happened in this case, I felt I had to chime in.
A good comp for Manny could be Clayton Kershaw. both LHP, good fastballs, hit AA at 19. look at their MiL stats & ARL: eerily similar.
FYI, Manny threw 85 ip if you count the AFL.
In a perfect world, he spends 8 games at AA, 4 at AAA, then mysterious DL trip, then 4 more starts at AAA all capped at 6 innings, bringing his minor league total to 96 innings. That leaves 50 to be had at the majors including playoffs if all goes well... of course the world is not perfect, so who knows.
I just hope they don't do something stupid and give him the Joba treatment...
Is that hold his own compared to other 5th starters? Hold his own compared to replacement level?
How would you think that "hold[ing] his own" would look against the other options the Yankees have for the back end of their rotation (ignoring the innings issue). Where would you slot Banuelos in the list of Garcia, Nova, Mitre & Colon?
In the immortal words of the referee from "Karate Champ," I think you, and I, and every one of us, really, has to say the following to Keith Law right now:
But the season, she's young, and the juries on lots of these prospects, they's still out.
So, you know... still time to sweep the leg, KG. (Leg of (John) Lamb, perhaps?)
Related, yet sort of totally unfair, question: if you had to re-rank today, would you push Manny up at all, and if so, by how much? And has any other prospect raised his stock higher through spring training action than he has? (E.g., Arodys Vizcaino?)
I am wondering if there is a way to split up Banuelos' innings in the minors so he can be ready for next year. Say, get him 75 innings, shut him down for a bit with only light side sessions, then bring him back in for another 50-75 to end the season. Then, offseason rest.
Is that a risky play? Or do you think that can be an effective way to handle him?