Manny Banuelos and Clayton Kershaw: The Search for a Starter

In the quest for another starter, the idea of Manny Banuelos came up in a recent discussion here. At first it seemed outrageous: "How can a pitcher that only got his feet wet in Double-A be in the Yankees rotation?" Then I looked at another highly-touted young lefty, Clayton Kershaw. The similarities are eerie.

Kershaw only spent three seasons in the minors, debuting with the Dodgers at 20 in 2008. The southpaw spent time in Rookie ball, Low-A and Double-A (he skipped High-A and Triple-A entirely).

Banuelos, who turns 20 in March, is also a well-projected lefty that has three minor league seasons under his belt (from Rookie ball through Double-A).

The minor league statistical comparison -

Kershaw (through age 20): 220 ip, 2.49 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 3 K/BB, .4 HR/9

Banuelos (through age 19): 216 ip, 2.59 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 3.5 K/BB, .4 HR/9

Eerie, right?

Now look at how they fared in their initial stints in Double-A (near the end of '07 for Kershaw and the end of '10 for Manny), both at the age of 19 -

Kershaw: 24.2 ip, 3.65 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 6.2 BB/9, 1.7 K/BB, 1.5 HR/9

Banuelos: 15.1 ip, 3.52 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 10 K/9, 4.7 BB/9, 2.1 K/BB, 1.2 HR/9

Also very similar. When Kershaw began 2008 in Double-A, he destroyed his previous numbers, posting a 1.91 ERA in 61 innings. He got the call to join the Dodgers in late May and started 21 games for Joe Torre, compiling a respectable 4.26 ERA. He only reached six innings once in his first nine starts, but after that, they seemed to take the reins off; he reached six innings in seven of his last 12 starts. He's been the Dodgers' best pitcher ever since (despite being 21-22).

Could Banuelos follow Kershaw's route? He has so far. If he dominates in Double-A, would the Yanks consider bringing him straight to the Bigs as a starter (especially if they need one, which looks likely at the moment) like the Dodgers did with Kershaw? It's hard to think that the Yankees, who botched Joba Chamberlain's starter potential so badly, would ever allow a 20-year old to skip Triple-A and make 21 big league starts... but if he's the best candidate, why not? Some pitchers, infrequent as they may be, can skip minor league levels and succeed in the majors at very early ages. Maybe Manny is one.

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