Manuel Banuelos, now our undisputed #1 prospect, is underrated. I’m not sure that I’d go as far as as rating him the 12th-best prospect in baseball (MLB.com), but I might put him in the low 20s. It’s hard to believe that, just a year after being considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, his 2011 season sucked the excitement out of fans and commentators as much as it did.
Let’s review: Banuelos pitched 129 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out a very healthy 125 batters (8.7 K/9), but issued a very unhealthy 71 walks (4.9 BB/9). He also allowed just 0.6 HR/9 and 9.0 H/9, to go along with an ERA of 3.75 and relatively high BABIP of .332.
Those numbers aren’t all pretty, but they aren’t weak either. But they don’t include the most important number: Banuelos was 20 years old for the full season, and does not turn 21 until March. He was playing in the Eastern League, where the average age of players is 24.3 years old, and the International League, where the average age of players is 26.7. Banuelos is at an age where college prospects are preparing for their junior year, and are about to get drafted. After being drafted, the really good ones may end up in High-A, but most will find themselves in short-season ball.
We should expect Banuelos to struggle at that level at his age. He certainly did struggle – he had pitch count issues, saw his K/9 dip a little bit over 2010, and issued tons of walks. But you know what? He didn’t get creamed. He didn’t allow a ton of hits or home runs. He stayed healthy all season, pitching a career high in innings. Banuelos is set up to succeed in Triple-A next season, and to possibly join the Yankees late in the year.
As much as Banuelos’ reputation, mostly due to sterling comments about makeup and poise, is as a command and control pitcher, the truth is he has always issued his share of walks. His career rate is 3.6 BB/9, and even in his breakout 2010 campaign he walked 3.5/9. He makes up for it by striking batters out. Tons and tons of batters. That’s where he’s going to be successful. They are different body types, but think about how Jon Lester succeeds. That’s the kind of player that we’re talking about. He’s not a #3 starter prospect, as I’ve seen people suggest, but a guy who could very easily put it all together and be a top-flight pitcher. And he’s got the skills to be effective even if everything doesn’t go right – in that case as a #3 starting pitcher.
Bet big on Banuelos.
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