The Yankees top prospect, Manny Banuelos, saw mixed results in the early months of this season. The left handed pitcher emerged out of the early spring throwing an improved curveball and a new cutter to compliment his already plus fastball and changeup. For the 21 year old pitcher entering the 2012 season in Triple-A, his success was never questioned by the quality of his pitches, but instead contingent upon his command.
In three spring training outings, Banuelos inconsistently pushed across 4 walks in his 5.0 innings, and through his first two starts with Scranton, he went an atrocious 5.1 innings, giving up, 14 hits, 6 earned runs, 7 walks, and only 2 strikeouts. He threw an uninspiring 82 strikes out of 155 pitches, a 53% strike rate. Perhaps just as we thought he was heading down the Andrew Brackman nightmarish career path that culminated with the Yankees last year, Banuelos was sent to the disable list with back problems.
Scouting reports from before 2011 largely suggested that the youngster appeared to be a quick mover, and his success would rely on his ability to develop his third pitch, the curveball. The command problem was a non-issue for Banuelos, who’s worst seasonal walk rates topped out at 3.5 BB/9. Last year’s 4.9 BB/9 rate was the first instance that command would be a weakness, truly his only major blemish holding him back from huge projections. While some assumed that the move from facing single-A hitters to double-A hitters caused the spike in walks, some scouts believed that he still possessed the advanced command he sported in three prior seasons, but was trying to hit corners too often. Perhaps the flaw holding him back, isn’t a flaw at all.
While we won’t know the state of his command issues until sample sizes increase, his healthy return to the majors over the last week has resulted in walk rates we haven’t seen from him in a while. Although Banuelos is still in the process of being stretched out, since being activated off the disabled list, he’s gone 8.2 innings, giving up 6 hits, 1 run, 8 strikeouts, and 0 walks. Aside from these incredible numbers, his strike rate has also increased from 53% to 64%, as he threw 87 strikes in 135 pitches. The numbers are a very short sample size, but for his first two healthy starts in 2012, Banuelos has shown no signs of command issues.
This from a friend at the Banuelos game today: “ridiculous FB command tonight. MLB quality.”
— Yankeesource (@YankeeSource) May 9, 2012
If the lefty continues to show that his command is a non-issue, the best place for his progress would be the major leagues. For a lefty who’s next step appears to be developing the cutter, the major league Yankees are the best equipped team to develop the pitch. Mariano Rivera, the man who made a living out of throwing the best cutter in baseball, has obviously suffered a terrible season ending injury, but there could be a silver lining with him remaining with the team and lending his knowledge to the clubhouse. Along with Mo, Andy Pettitte‘s return in pinstripes gives them one of the best lefty throwing pitchers to ever throw a cutter. Pairing Banuelos with Rivera and Pettitte could be a defining point in his career, something that might not be possible in the future. From a strictly development standpoint, there seems to be little more the 21 year old could learn outside of the majors if command is a clear non-issue by mid-season. Promoting Banuelos to the big leagues could happen sooner than we expect.
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