Prospect Profile: Manny Banuelos

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Manny Banuelos | LHP

Born in Durango, Mexico, Banuelos signed with Sultanes de Monterrey of the Mexican Baseball League at a very young age (I can’t figure out when, exactly) and as far as I can tell he never pitched for them. Lee Sigman, the Yankee scout that covers Mexico, signed a then 17-year-old Banuelos away from Monterrey along with three other players in early 2008 for a total of $450,000. Al Aceves also came over in the same transaction.

Pro Career
The Yankees held Banuelos back in Extended Spring Training after signing, and he made his professional debut later that summer with the team’s rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He made three starts and nine relief appearances with the GCL Yanks, pitching to a 3.72 FIP in 42 innings. Banuelos was assigned to Low-A Charleston as an 18-year-old the next year and he was nothing short of brilliant. He logged an impressive 108 innings with the River Dogs, striking out 8.67 and walking just 2.33 men per nine innings, good for a 2.76 FIP. Although he was selected to the Futures Game, Banuelos did not pitch in the game because of a weather delay. The Yankees rewarded him with a late season promotion to High-A Tampa, and he tossed a perfect inning of relief (two strikeouts) in his only appearance with the team.

Still just 19-year-old, Banuelos was scheduled to start the 2010 season with Tampa before an appendectomy got in the way. He had surgery in Spring Training but was out until late-June, then he made two quick rehab starts (5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K) before moving up to Tampa. Banuelos was once again brilliant, making ten starts in High-A this summer. He struck out 62 and walked just 14 in 44.1 innings, a stout 1.71 FIP. Not wanting to waste that kind of performance in the low minors, the Yankees bumped Banuelos up to Double-A Trenton at the end of the season. He made three starts with the Thunder, striking out 17 and walking eight in 15.1 innings (4.24 FIP).

Although Monterrey retained Banuelos’ winter ball rights, but the Yanks worked out an arrangement with them that allowed the lefty to participate in the Arizona Fall League this year. He made seven starts with the Phoenix Desert Dogs, striking out 16 and walking ten in the notoriously hitter friendly league. All told, Banuelos has thrown 240.2 innings as a pro, during which time he’s struck out 244 batters and walked just 72. He’s also allowed just ten homers.

Scouting Report
The scouting report on Banuelos has changed quite a bit since he signed. He joined the Yankees as a short little left-hander that offered an 88-90 fastball with inconsistent offspeed pitches, but he’s added velocity and developed more consistency in his three years with the organization. Still short and left-handed, Banuelos is listed at 5-foot-10 and 155 lbs., but there’s no way that weight in current. He’s probably closer to 175-180 or so, maybe even more. His fastball now routinely sits 90-94 and he ran it up as high as 96 during the summer, backing it up with a changeup that fades down-and-away from righties. That’s his second best pitch. Although his curveball is improving, it’s still inconsistent with some development left.

Banuelos earns praise for three things. First is his simple and deceptive delivery and the way the ball explodes out of his hand. His fastball jumps on hitters and often leads to ugly swings, allowing him to pitch upstairs consistently. Second is his control and command, which is already major league average and continuously improving. Third is the tremendous poise and mound presence he exhibits, which is what caught the Yankees’ attention in the first place. It’s worth mentioning that there’s no projection left in Banuelos’ frame; unless he has an early-20’s growth spurt, what you see is what you’re going to get. Regardless, it’s a front-of-the-rotation package thanks to progress he’s made during the last three seasons.

Here’s some video courtesy of Mike Ashmore, and you can find a ton more on YouTube.

2011 Outlook
After finishing up this season with three starts at Double-A Trenton, Banuelos will return there to start the 2011 campaign. He’s still extremely young (doesn’t turn 20 until March), so there’s no rush. Expect the Yankees to keep him there for the majority of the season, and if any promotion does occur, it likely won’t come until August or so. A lot would have to go right for Banuelos while a lot goes wrong at the big league level for him to make his major league debut in 2011. A 2012 debut is far more likely, and even then he’ll still just be 21 years old.

My Take
While you can certainly make a case for Dellin Betances or Andrew Brackman, Banuelos is the best pitching prospect in the organization in my book. I love the combination of age, stuff, command, and poise, plus he’s got a much better health record than those guys. I honestly can’t remember the last time the Yanks had a left-handed starter with this kind of potential in Double-A, we probably have to go all the way back to Brandon Claussen or Eric Milton. My only real concern is long-term durability given his size, but that’s more anecdotal than anything else. The Yankees have something special in Banuelos, but the real test begins now that he’s in Double-A.

Type-A Relievers: Death To Value

As much as baseball needs instant replay, the Elias free agent ranking system is perhaps in need of even more help. The rankings are generally laughable, and if you happen to be dubbed a Type-A free agent as a reliever, your value generally plummets once (if) your old club offers arbitration. We saw this two years ago with Juan Cruz, a guy that had posted 12+ K/9’s for consecutive years but couldn’t find a job because no one wanted to give up a high pick. I actually wrote a post imploring the Yankees to sign him since, at the time, they would have only surrendered a measly fourth round pick because of their first three picks were gone already, but that’s an extreme case.

Now that we know which players have been offered arbitration and will require draft pick compensation, we can cross them off our winter wish list…

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Grant Balfour

The Rays are going to be swimming in draft picks next year; they have seven ranked free agents including three Type-A’s, meaning they could come into ten extra picks if they all sign elsewhere. One of those Type-A’s is Balfour, the hard-throwing Australian that has done fine work out of Tampa’s bullpen over the last few seasons. He’s struck out 234 batters in 203 innings with the Rays, getting his walk rate down to just 2.8 per nine last season. He is a fly ball pitcher, which would have been a bit of a problem in Yankee Stadium, but when you factor in the draft pick compensation, any chance of the Yankees pursuing him just went out the window.

Frank Francisco

(AP Photo/Ralph Lauer)

Francisco, 31,  was just about the only reliever I identified this winter as a potential buy low candidate for the Yankees. He’s coming off a strained rib cage that kept him out from the end of August right through Texas’ World Series run, so his stock is on the low side just because of that. His numbers have been nothing short of fantastic over the last three years, however. Francisco has struck out exactly 200 batters while walking just 54 unintentionally in 165.1 innings since 2008 thanks to his fastball-splitter combo, but the big drawback is that he can be homer prone (18 HR allowed during that time). I didn’t have him in mind as the undisputed eighth inning guy, just another high strikeout reliever to add to the bullpen.

The Rangers have a ton of hard throwing relievers in their bullpen, plus the newly minted Rookie of the Year at closer, so Francisco seemed like a slightly expensive luxury they could afford to let walk. He earned $3.265M last season, a nice chunk of change for a reliever, and an arbitration hearing could push him up to $4M. I didn’t expect Texas to offer him arb yesterday, but they did. The required draft pick compensation takes him completely off my radar. For shame.

Jason Frasor

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Yankee fans have seen enough of Frasor during his time with the Blue Jays, and in fact they’ve seen him pitch in just about every relief role imaginable; long relief, middle innings, setup, ROOGY, closer, you name it. The 33-year-old finally found his way as a strikeout/semi-ground ball pitcher over the last two seasons, making the jump from solid to very good. Frasor has struck out just about a batter per inning (121 in 121.1 IP) and has kept the walks down (34 unintentional) during that time, and his grounder rate jumped to 43.4% in 2010. He had been just north of 38% before that, which isn’t all that bad either.

Toronto offered the Type-A free agent yesterday, so once again a team will have to surrender a high draft pick to sign a fungible reliever. For super-elite performers like Rafael Soriano, that’s fine. For anyone less than that, it’s a legit deal-breaker. Frasor earned $2.65M last season and is certain to get a bump up and over the $3M hump, which is fine on a one-year deal, even if you include a club option, but once you add in that draft pick, it’s just not worth it.

* * *

Arbitration offers, and really the broken Elias ranking formula, killed the free agent value of Balfour, Francisco and Frasor. Unless a team has multiple first round picks or has already surrendered their top pick for signing another free agent, chances are they’ll look at these three and realize that there are some comparable arms out there that don’t require free agent compensation. The system’s broken and needs to be fixed, but we all know that already. There’s a good chance that all three of these righties will accept their team’s offer of arbitration, simply because the market won’t offer them much.

What Went Right: Andy Pettitte

This adorable picture of Andy and his five-year-old son Luke was taken during a workout before this year’s Homerun Derby. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

When the Yankees stormed to their 2009 World Series victory, they did so by relying on just three starting pitchers in the playoffs. The Yanks were concerned about the those heavy workloads having a carryover effect into 2010, hence the Javy Vazquez pickup. Perhaps no pitcher on the staff was more vulnerable to that kind of hangover effect than 37-year-old Andy Pettitte, the stalwart lefty that has been a rock in New York’s rotation for the last decade-and-a-half (save those three years he went to Houston).

Amazingly, Pettitte showed zero ill effects from the heavy 2009 workload at the outset of the 2010 season, allowing just nine earned runs in his first seven starts, holding opponents to a .268 wOBA. He cruised into the All Star break with a 2.70 ERA (3.75 FIP) and 113.1 innings in 17 starts, an average of exactly 6.2 innings per start. The old man wasn’t just giving his team a ton of innings, he was giving them high quality innings. That effort earned Andy his first trip to the All Star Game since 2001, just the third of his career.

Andy’s overall season resulted in a 3.28 ERA (3.85 FIP) and a .310 wOBA against, and he absolutely annihilated left-handed batters (.216 wOBA). He was also the team’s best pitcher in the playoffs, following up a seven inning, two run performance against the Twins in Game Two of the ALDS with yet another seven inning, two run performance against the Rangers in Game Three of the ALCS. We have all come to love and adore Andy, and for most part we know what the Yankees will get out of him, but he far exceeded the expectations of even his biggest fans in 2010.

Of course, we have to mention that Pettitte’s otherwise brilliant season was plagued by injury. He missed two starts with elbow inflammation in May, then spent 62 days on the disabled list from mid-July to mid-September. Once he came back, Pettitte began dealing with back spasms that bothered him throughout the postseason and even put a ALDS Game Five in jeopardy had it been necessary. Such are the risks associated with a pitcher that turned 38 in June and came into the season with 3,175.1 big league innings (regular season and playoffs) on his arm.

So for now, we once again play the waiting game. Andy is back home in Texas doing his annual self-evaluation to determine if he wants to play another year. We know that if he does play in 2011, that it will be his final year, and earlier today, Ken Davidoff reported that Pettitte is “leaning toward” one final season on the diamond. The Yankees are patiently awaiting his decision as are the fans, but for selfish reasons we all want him back. Andy probably won’t replicate his 2010 performance again, but even a return to the days of a low-4.00’s ERA with oodles of innings would be welcome. In the meantime, bravo on the great season.

A ‘messy’ negotiation takes a turn for the worse

Derek Jeter and the Yanks are swinging at air right now. (AP Photo, Kathy Willens)

When the Hot Stove League officially kicked off on November 2, Hal Steinbrenner took to the AM airwaves to discuss the Yanks’ off-season plans. In doing so, he warned that the upcoming negotiations between Derek Jeter and his long-time employer would not be for the faint of heart. “There’s always the possibility that things could get messy,” he said to Michael Kay.

Three weeks later, the relationship between the Yankees and their captain has gotten very, very messy indeed. Since the start, the Yankees have toed the line. “I want to get a deal done that he’s happy with but also that I’m happy with,” Hal Steinbrenner said in early November.

Since then, the Yankees have extended Jeter at least one contract offer. The team hasn’t confirmed the dollar amount, but the club is reported to have given Jeter’s camp a three-year, $45-million offer. Things took a turn for the worse when Jeter’s agent Casey Close took exception to the offer and the subsequent reports of an emerging hard line.

“Derek Jeter is a great Yankee and he’s a great player. With that said and done, now is a different negotiation than 10 years ago,” Randy Levine said last week. “He’s a baseball player, and this is a player negotiation. Everything he is and who he is gets factored in. But this isn’t a licensing deal or a commercial rights deal, he’s a baseball player. With that said, you can’t take away from who he is. He brings a lot to the organization. And we bring a lot to him.”

Close called the Yanks’ stance “baffling” as anonymous sources said that Jeter wanted a five- or six-year deal. Jeter wants to keep pace with A-Rod, but the Yanks don’t want to make the same contract mistake twice. Close expressed dismay the Yanks would be so public in their comments, and Jeter confidantes later said the two sides are “not even in the same ballpark.”

Today, the Yankees swung back and hard. George A. King III spoke to Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman. “There is nothing baffling about our position,” Cashman said. “We have been very honest and direct with them, not through the press. We feel our offer is appropriate and fair. We appreciate the contributions Derek has made to our organization and we have made it clear to them. Our primary focus is his on-the-field performance the last couple of years in conjunction with his age, and we have some concerns in that area that need to be addressed in a multiyear deal going forward.”

To quell doubts, the Yanks, Cashman said, still want Jeter around: “I restate Derek Jeter is the best shortstop for this franchise as we move forward. The difficulty is finding out what is fair between both sides.”

Later in the day, Cashman elaborated in an interview with Wallace Matthews. The team, he says, has made a “fair and appropriate” offer to Jeter. “We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account,” the GM said. “We’ve encouraged him to test the market and see if there’s something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That’s the way it works.” He later added, “We want to be treated fairly. We’re not just going to write a blank check.”

Matthews, who says that Jeter wants 4-6 years at $20 million per, had more:

“We believe that Derek Jeter is the best person to play shortstop for this franchise moving forward,” Cashman said. “Do we want to lose Derek Jeter? No. Do we want to treat Derek Jeter fair? Absolutely. Do we want to be treated fair at the same time? No question about it.”

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to put the best winning team on the field,” Cashman added. “We feel Derek Jeter gives us the best chance to win. But we’re not dealing with Derek alone. We’re dealing with our closer, we’re trying to add to our club, and if putting all out eggs into one basket takes away from our ability to add to our club, I ain’t gonna do it.”

Asked if there was any chance the negotiation could fall apart and Jeter could somehow wind up in a different uniform next year, Cashman said, “Not from us. We would like Derek Jeter to be a Yankee and we’re making our best efforts to keep that in play. But it takes two.”

The Yankees are pressing and hard right now on Jeter. They know his leverage is at an all-time low, and they know what they want to pay Jeter. Derek has spent his Yankee career being the opposite of controversial. He never says anything; he never finds himself in a scandal; and he is exceptional at toeing the Steinbrenner party line. He has been the model employee, but at age 36 and coming off of his worst offensive season, being steadfast in your devotion only earns you so many dollars above market value.

Soon though he’ll have to respond with something more than the word “baffling” because the Yanks, as Tyler Kepner wrote today, certainly don’t think these negotiations are baffling. If anything, the club has a plan and they are, in spite of mounting public criticism, sticking with it. Right now, the onus is on Jeter to work this out, and all indications are that the Yanks aren’t through negotiation. The club, Jon Heyman said earlier before rescinding his statement, may bump up the three-year, $45-million, if they haven’t done so already, but if that isn’t enough, he can indeed try the open market.

“He should be nothing but a New York Yankee,” Cashman said, “if he chooses to be.”

Open Thread: From Baseball to Football (and a Lee update)

That up there is a time lapse video of the transformation Yankee Stadium underwent earlier this month in preparation for last weekend’s Army-Notre Dame game and next month’s Pinstripe Bowl. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, so I’m passing it along. Thanks to Rob for the heads up about the video.

Once you’re done checking that out, use this as your open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are in action in an otherwise dull spots night. Chat about whatever you like – the free agent market certainly picked up today – so have at it.

Update: Yanks have yet to make any offer to Lee

Meanwhile Mark Feinsand has an update to a rumor we deemed a bit unreliable this morning. Ostensibly, the Yanks had extended a six-year, $140-million contract to Cliff Lee, but Mark Feinsand’s sources say this rumor is “not accurate.” In fact, says Feinsand’s sources, “the Yankees have not made an offer to Lee yet.” The Cliff Lee situation is likely to be unresolved until the winter meetings after Thanksgiving.

Update: Vazquez to receive Yanks’ only arb offer

Contrary to initial reports, the Yankees will offer arbitration only to Javier Vazquez ahead of this evening’s midnight deadline. We had originally heard that the Yanks planned to offer it to Kerry Wood as well. The decision not to offer arbitration to Wood belies the Yanks’ concerns that he would have accepted and thus would earn far more than the team wants to pay their set-up man. Vazquez is expected to decline the offer, and the Yanks will recoup a supplemental first-round pick when he signs with another team this winter. The Yankees have declined to offer arbitration to Lance Berkman, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, but under the 2007 CBA, the club can continue to negotiation with any or all of their own free agents.

The RAB Radio Show: November 23, 2010

It feels as though the Yankees wanted to hear Mike and I talk longer, because they dumped a ton of news on us today.

First up: MVP. What Cano got, what he didn’t get, why he didn’t deserve to win, but why he also should be proud of his finish. There could be greater things in Mr. Cano’s future.

Then we move onto arbitration. We know that they will extend offers to Kerry Wood and Javy Vazquez, and that Javy has agreed to decline. From what Cashman said I presume Wood will accept. That’s good news for the 2011 bullpen, but not for the 2011 payroll.

Six years and $140 million for Cliff Lee? I thought the Yanks would get there, but there is a report that it’s already on the table. Is this just a garbled game of telephone, or are the Yankees trying to get all their affairs in order with a time-sensitive offer?

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