Readers of this blog are for the most part die hard Yankee fans, and as such should be familiar with the stories of the top two Yankee pitching prospects Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. Dellin is a kid born in Manhattan, that played in Brooklyn’s Grand Street Campus and was drafted in 2006. Manny was signed in 2008 out of the Sultanes de Monterrey team of the Mexican Baseball League at age 17. Both were thought to have very high ceilings, although for opposite reasons. Betances was very raw but had killer stuff, while Banuelos had lesser stuff but loads of polish for someone so young.
But they share one thing in common. In both cases, by their own account they say that rehabbing from an injury actually was key to their development. It sounds counter intuitive, even crazy, but again for very different reasons getting hurt was the first step in taking a big leap forward as players. First, here’s Manny’s account from a recent NY times article by Ben Shigpel:
The extra velocity started appearing toward the end of a stellar 2009 season for Class A Charleston, where he was 9-5 with a 2.67 earned run average while allowing a tidy 1.07 runners per inning via hit or walk. The Yankees expected him to impress at the next level. But the day before a start here last April, Banuelos developed severe stomach pains. It was appendicitis. When he awoke from surgery, Banuelos, an only child, called his mother, Josefina Najera, who still lives in Durango, and told her he was worried that he would miss the entire season.
“It was my biggest fear,” said Banuelos, who worked with Danny Borrell, the team’s rehabilitation pitching coordinator — and another former highly regarded left-hander — to get back into shape.
Concentrating on strengthening his shoulders, legs and core, Banuelos returned on July 1 with a fastball that had gained 2 to 3 m.p.h.
“When he was younger, Manny got hitters out with guile, by changing speeds and locating with his fastball,” Newman said. “He already had a good idea to pitch, and now he can throw it by them.”
We all wondered where that added bump in velocity came from, and now we have an answer. Being on the shelf gave him an opportunity to strengthen his core at a time when he would have been pitching and on a different conditioning program. Seemingly overnight, he went from a solid yet unspectacular prospect to a 5 star rating by BP last week.
Next up is Dellin Betances, who struggled greatly with his mechanics and control as a young pitcher. After missing a month in 2008 with a shoulder strain, he seemed to turn a corner in the 2nd half, cutting his walk rate in half over that time frame. Heading into 2009, he appeared poised for a breakout season that didn’t come. Instead, he struggled greatly again with his control and soon blew out his elbow, requiring surgery. That’s where Kevin Kernan of the NY Post picks things up:
Tommy John surgery (the ligament was not completely torn) in August 2009 slowed Betances’ development, but he came back strong last year to start 17 games. He was 8-1 at Single-A Tampa and was promoted to Double-A Trenton for three starts. Over 851⁄3 innings he struck out 108 batters and walked 22.
“One thing with the Tommy John surgery is that it allowed me to work on a day-to-day basis on my delivery,” Betances said. “I feel like that has changed me as a pitcher. Just mentally, I feel I’ve gotten a lot stronger.”
When Betances was introduced at the scouts’ dinner, his weight was noted as 240 pounds. He bent over the microphone, smiled and said, “I’m actually 270. I’m a lot bigger and stronger than I used to be.”
In both cases, getting hurt mid season allowed them to take a step back and work on something that was sorely needed in their game, and took them to the next level as prospects. I just found it interesting that something which would universally be considered a negative (getting hurt) proved to be a turning point for these two players. There really is no one path to the majors, and we as fans would be well served to be patient and keep an open mind.
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