Friday, March 9, 2012

BoyBan Becoming ManBan

Manny Banuelos has a bright future as a potential MLB starter. Image thanks to baseball instinct

According to Joe Girardi, Manny Banuelos (ManBan), widely considered to be the best prospect in the Yankees system, looks even better this year than last. Last year in AA he struggled with his control, but was otherwise pretty dominant all season.

When asked what he thought of Banuelos' performance in the Braves game today Joe said, "I thought he attacked the zone better and was able to get his secondary pitches over."

So far this spring, Banuelos has posted impressive numbers. He's thrown 4 innings with 3 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts. He hasn't yet allowed a run. The 2 walks came in his first outing on a windy day. I can forgive him. The key going forward will be to maintain the control he showed today over a full season.

Joe Girardi told ESPN New York, "I think his command can improve, and when that improves I think he’s a major league pitcher. Obviously we love the talent and what he can become.”

That control is probably the only thing standing between ManBan and the Yankees starting rotation. He represents an important piece of a possible young core of starters for the next 4-5 years, including Nova and Pineda. CC will also be around for a while, so if Banuelos can show continued success we could be looking at our 1-4 starters for the foreseeable future. Filling out the #5 spot is as easy as David Phelps, Adam Warren, DJ Mitchell, and possibly Betances or they could always go the Hiroki Kuroda 1 year free agent route. 

Banuelos spent most of last year in AA, throwing 95.1 innings there. He then threw 34.1 innings in AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. The statistics were a bit underwhelming, but there are a few important caveats when looking at ManBan's numbers. First of all he was just 20 in AA and was the youngest player in the International League when he played in AAA. The second caveat may or may not partially explain the issues he had with control last year. He was on an innings limit. The Yankees' idea of an innings limit is different than some other organizations. Some organizations just let a guy loose and shut them down when they reach a certain number of innings. In New York, they limit guys to 5 inning outings so they can pitch all season. In the case of Banuelos, and maybe Betances too, this may have made it more difficult to get into a groove. Looking closer though, many of Banuelos' outings last year approached 100 pitches at the 5 inning mark, so it would have been inappropriate to keep him in the game anyway.

Regardless of innings limitations and age, the numbers were still pretty damn good. Overall he had a 3.75 ERA in 129.2 innings, allowing 130 hits, 9 homeruns, and 71 walks. He struck out 125 batters for a strikeout rate of 8.7 K/9 IP. His WHIP was concerning at 1.55, but overall he performed exceedingly well as a 20 year old kid in AA-AAA.

There is no question that Banuelos has a bright future. As a left handed pitcher with a 93-96 mph fastball that he has been able to control for most of his career (besides last), his upside is that of an ace. He could see time in the majors as soon as this season, with a September call up not out of the question. He should compete for a spot in the rotation next season, and could preempt the need for a free agent starting pitcher next year.

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