The Yankees kicked off the new year yesterday with a trade, and that deal with the Braves sent a man once ranked the 13th-best prospect in baseball to Atlanta in exchange for a couple relievers. Such a return for Manny Banuelos would have been considered unfathomable just a few years ago, but yet, here we are. Throughout his time in the Yankees' farm system, Pinstripe Alley always maintained an affinity for the lefty starter, as it did not take long for him to impress the team and its fans after being signed out of Mexico in 2008. On the old site format, we even had a sidebar dedicated to Banuelos and his fellow "Killer B's," Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman:
Aside: What were you even, Brackman
Whenever a player of relative notoriety retires, Baseball Prospectus likes to look back on his career through the BP Annual comments made throughout their careers. So even though Banuelos obviously isn't going to be gone from the game and many of us will still track his progress with the Braves, I thought that it would be a fun exercise to comb through the PSA archives and see what we've said about Banuelos through the past few years. We've seen him go from unknown minor leaguer to top prospect to rehabbing starter, and it's been quite the road in just a handful of seasons.
7/12/2009: The southpaw Banuelos is a relative newbie to prospect lists. The 18-year-old is in his second pro year, refining his craft at Low-A Charleston and doing a good job of it: 77.2 ip, 2.20 ERA, 68 K, 1.00 WHIP.
"I've had the opportunity to see a number of former first round picks and top international free agent pitchers and Banuelos ranks right up there with them... At 18, he has a remarkable combination of feel and poise, but it raises the question of how much better he can become."
2010 #2 prospect
10/4/2010: 2. Manny Banuelos, LHP, 19 - Has moved up prospect lists largely due to increased velocity. He used to sit about 90-91 MPH, but this year was often 93-95, touching 97. Add in the fact that he's lefty, only 19, and already has Double-A experience, and you get a potential ace-in-the-making. The only concern is his height, 5'10", but being 19, he could certainly get bigger.
12/18/2010: The minor league statistical comparison -
Clayton 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
Manny 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? ... 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?
Spring training phenom
3/16/2011: After throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings against the starting lineup for the Boston Red Sox, the ink has flown about uber-spect Manny Banuelos. The Red Sox third basemen, Kevin Youkilis, a strikeout victim of a particularly filthy Banuelos 3-2 change-up, had the following to say about him after the game:
"He’s got three pitches he can throw pretty good, now he has to learn how to pitch. If he figures it out, he’ll be all right. Being left-handed and throwing hard, if you throw three good pitches and you’re left-handed, you don’t even have to throw 90."
It is natural with the question marks surrounding the rotation for there to be clamoring for Banuelos to contribute to the Yankees in 2011, but as talented as he is, Youkilis is correct in saying that he has a lot to learn. For now, the best thing for the Yankees to do with Banuelos is to stash him in the minor leagues and let him build up his innings, refine his pitches, and reevaluate his major league readiness a year from now.
Note: At this point, Mariano Rivera even went as far to say that Banuelos was the best pitching prospect he'd ever seen. Yeah, the Yankees liked him a lot.
12/28/2011: Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos are all outstanding prospects, but expecting even one of them to be a star player on a future Yankees World Series winner goes against the odds based on what we know from history...
I realize there's a high degree of subjectivity involved in defining a "good" career, but nearly half of [the total of Top 25 Baseball America prospects ranked each year from 1997-2001] failed to break the 10 WAR barrier when they hung up their spikes for good. That's clearly a disappointment. Add to them the players who bounced around several organizations before achieving success (Carlos Pena), were good but struggled with injuries (Nick Johnson, Mark Mulder), or put up unglamorous, but nevertheless solid numbers (Eric Milton, Jose Cruz Jr, Matt Clement), and it means that at least two thirds of these prospects came nowhere close to meeting the kind of expectations now being placed on Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos.
Hope for a Gio
1/22/2012: Banuelos has added some velocity in recent years, and is still learning how to command his increased stuff. The problem we face with him is two straight years of questionable control, with a BB/9 just a shade below 5.00.
I see him as a spitting image of Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez, a fellow short lefty with a big strikeout arsenal who took a similar development path. With Banuelos, I don't think we're looking at an ace, but certainly a guy who has a #2/#3 ceiling and can be a very effective pitcher for the Yankees.
A rude interruption
10/2/2012: There's a slight chance that [after the Tommy John surgery] he can return to the minors near the end of their '13 season, but more than likely it will take until 2014 Spring Training before fans can see Banuelos on the mound again. Prior to his injury, he was one of the youngest pitchers in AAA, so he will still be only 23 in '14. In 2011, he pitched to a 3.75 ERA with 8.7 K/9 in 27 starts between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton as a 20-year-old. There is still plenty of time for ManBan to develop, but now it looks as though the earliest fans will see him in the Yankees rotation is midseason 2014 since he likely needs to pitch a little better in AAA before a possible promotion...
Get well soon, ManBan.
1/11/2013: The best we can hope for now is to see Banuelos break into the majors sometime during the 2014 season, maybe around the All-Star break. With Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and possibly Phil Hughes all departing from the big league rotation, and the budgetary restrictions firmly in place, ManBan's ascent to the next level will be watched very closely and will likely be necessary with minimal setbacks to actually help fill the five spots in the order on more limited financial means. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect, as the saying goes, and all that promise does not guarantee successful futures. Here's hoping Manny lives up to the praise that so many were willing to heap upon him as the next great homegrown Yankee pitcher, but don't hold your breath just yet, because we've all heard those promises too many times before.
One last year
10/4/2014: 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.
So long and good luck in Atlanta, Manny. Here's hoping you find your potential there.