2014 Statistics: 2.84 ERA/1.89 FIP/9.95 K/9 in 12.2 IP (High-A), 4.59 ERA/5.03 FIP/8.08 K/9 in 49 IP (Double-A), 3.60 ERA/5.56 FIP/7.80 K/9 in 15 IP (Triple-A)
2014 Level/Roster Status: Triple-A/40-man roster
Manny Banuelos continued his long track back from undergoing Tommy John surgery by traversing three levels in 2014. The Yankees limited his pitch counts at every stop along the way to keep him fresh in case they needed him out of the big league bullpen in September, which ultimately did not come to pass. Missing an entire year of play is a hard blow to any prospect's status, but fortunately Banuelos had previously been young for his level while coming up through the Yankees' system. At 23 years old, he's no longer ahead of schedule, but his prior advancement does mean that the year off for recovery did not put him too far out of the normal range of a pitching prospect knocking on the door of the majors.
In the games that Banuelos pitched, the results were not always pretty. He expectedly cruised through inferior A-ball hitters in Tampa before an extended stay in Trenton saw far less favorable results. It's difficult to determine whether the Banuelos that took the mound was what we can expect from him going forward or not, considering the lengthy time away from the game and strict pitch count from the team. Banuelos wasn't exactly going out there fresh without his training wheels. The struggles are obviously concerning, but it may not be time to press the panic button just yet. Recovery from Tommy John surgery is not set to a watch that every pitcher is able to follow. The Yankees were obviously cautious with ManBan's return, which could very well have skewed the results.
Time away from the game has cost Banuelos his spot as the team's best pitching prospect, but seeing what he is able to do with his surgery farther in the rearview mirror will dictate whether or not his status has truly fallen off. Results had become a bit mixed before the surgery, which may have just been a signaling of trouble within the anatomy of Banuelos' arm but who knows. The diminutive left-hander is far from a prototypical starting pitching prospect at 5'10" anyway. Still, he was able to defy the odds of a shorter stature and make it all the way to the top of prospect lists before running into a bit of a wall with Tommy John surgery on the other side. He remains the last Killer B prospect still in the role that was set out for him. Having him succeed as a starter is the last real hope of that hype train, despite the fact that Dellin Betances has certainly found his niche as a tremendous reliever.
It's hard to read too much into Banuelos' 2014 season as it pertains to his future. Maybe his struggles in his return are a bigger sign of struggles to come. ManBan still has time on his side, and sustained success at the beginning of 2015 could very well have him in the majors before the trade deadline. Hopefully his disappointing 2014 was nothing more than the rust that comes with returning to the mound from a very serious surgery and he'll be right back to reminding people what made him a top prospect just a few short seasons ago in no time.