Fans aren't exactly alone either. Baseball America has the pair ranked #1 and #2 in the system (by default), John Sickels pegged them at #2 and #3 and both ranked inside the top 50 of MLB.com's top 100 prospects list (#13 for Banuelos and #41 for Betances in case you're link allergic).
The question is: why? It seems to be universally accepted that the B's are not only the top prospects in the Yankees system, but in all of baseball. So why are they so highly regarded?
In all honesty, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Perhaps some perspective is necessary to help put expectations in check.
Just for the sake of argument, former farmhands Arodys Vizcaino and Zach McAllister make a return visit. Why? Well, for one, because I can. But more importantly because Vizcaino was probably the best non-Montero prospect in the system before he was shipped out for Javy and Boone. With McAllister, it's mostly an excuse to get this in here.
I brought (blurry) graphs.
- This is how hype trains get rolling. Talent combined with outstanding stuff completely rolling up on over-matched hitters. In Banuelos' and Betances' cases, you could probably overlook the walk numbers (especially Betances) because of
- It's incredible the Yankees didn't launch Nova into orbit with a line like that. Strikeouts? Nope. Inflated WHIP? Oof. FIP? The hell is that?
- Holy Phil Hughes
- Phelps only made 7 starts at the A+ level. Probably not fair to throw his numbers into the comparison, but what are you going to do? He's needed later.
- Arodys Vizcaino hates decimal points
These numbers are fun and all, but they aren't really the important part. This is just a baseline breakdown trying to pinpoint the genesis of a lot of the hype the recent pitching prospects have received. They can largely get by on pure stuff at this point, so a live armed thrower can put up eye catching numbers.
Going up a level? Well...
Oh. Well then...
Players get better a level up and suddenly a lot of the fishing that helped fuel the engine on the hype train disappears. It's almost like pure stuff isn't enough to get by at the higher levels.
Anyway, for all the chatter about Banuelos and Betances as potential front of the rotation pitchers, the results aren't really there. In fact, the only ones who really did put up front end numbers were Hughes, McAllister and maybe Vizcaino or Phelps (Warren only pitched ~50 innings at Double-A, so SSS). Funny what having a vague idea of where the plate is will do to compliment quality stuff.
If it isn't obvious from the numbers, consistency is what has plagued both of the B's since they made the jump to Trenton. The strikeout(!) numbers are still there, but they would do well to bring a GPS with directions to the plate to the mound with them on most nights. Just as a qualifier, not all walks and perceived wildness are created equal (same kind of holds true for WHIP, which Ivan Nova can attest to).
Betances' problem is that he is still in large part a thrower, only made worse by mechanics that make him look like he's about to fall over when he releases the ball. A heavy fastball is still usually enough to blow by hitters at Double-A, but even they aren't going to swing at a pitch two feet off the plate, over their head or skipping at the plate. He does possess a good curveball, but without a consistent fastball to build off, it may largely go for naught as he advances.
Banuelos is a whole different case. It's strange to say considering his less than stellar BB/9 and WHIP, but the control seems to be there. What seems to give him trouble is too much control (if that makes any sense). He trusts his stuff, many times to a fault as he tries to get too cute around the plate and snipe for strikes instead of attacking hitters. It's good to see him trying to play corners because he's clearly capable of doing so, but there is a time and place for it. Not all umpires are going to call pitches on or near the black, so when that isn't working he needs to adjust. If he doesn't, we're going to see a lot of what we saw this year from him: 20 pitch innings, 5 inning starts and 120-130 IP seasons.
Sadly, all my excuse making doesn't change the numbers. Banuelos and Betances have definitely put up solid numbers and shown flashes of brilliance that every franchise in baseball would be happy to have, but front liner or ace? They're struggling to pitch as well as not only the guys who went before, but their current teammates who can't shake the label of "back of the rotation starter", so perhaps it's time to throw the brakes on our expectations.
We've been down this road before with Phil Hughes, who in all honesty was far, far beyond either of the B's at this point in their careers, and many people are ready to run him out of town or banish him to the pen. The far superior prospect is being bandied about in trades after two hellish seasons, so how will the fanbase react if Banuelos or Betances don't set the world ablaze immediately? Why are so many so high on them but are willing to throw Phelps or Warren in any given trade despite their results? Potential? The Killer B's gimmick is more fun? Strikeouts!?
Wet blanket treatment aside, there is a lot to like about both guys. The talent is there, and with the latest moves to shore up the rotation the Yankees may have bought their prized prospects more time to develop and hopefully harness their potential. With three locks (at least Nova should be) for the rotation and the Phelps-Warren duo poised to fill in if need be, it's no longer a borderline necessity that the B's be ready to rock by late 2012 or 2013.
It sucks being let down by lofty expectations, so just relax, be realistic based on the results and have fun watching them grow into quality pitchers. It makes watching performances like Nova's 2011 all the more enjoyable.
Also: come back Phil Hughes. We miss you.