Manny Banuelos’ arrival on tap for 2015, finally

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

We’ve been talking about left-hander Manny Banuelos here at RAB so long that it’s easy to forget he’s still only 23 years old. He’s younger than both 2014 Rookies of the Year and everyone who finished in the top five of the voting in each league as well. Yet because we’ve been talking about him since he was an 18-year-old pitching in High Class-A, it feels like Banuelos is much older than he really is.

These last few years have obviously been tough for Banuelos, who’s battled injury and ineffectiveness, occasionally at the same time. He had a 4.50 ERA (3.79 FIP) in six starts with Triple-A Scranton in 2012 before suffering a bone bruise in his elbow, then he torn his UCL during the rehab and needed Tommy John surgery. Banuelos did not pitch in an official minor league game from May 18th, 2012 until April 3rd, 2014 because of the elbow issues.

In his return from close to two lost seasons this year, Banuelos pitched to a 4.11 ERA (4.66 FIP) in 76.2 innings while climbing from High-A to Double-A and finally back to Triple-A. His workload was very closely monitored — he didn’t complete five full innings until late-July, in his 19th outing of the season — and a well-timed blister gave him a nice little two-week breather in late-June. Banuelos stayed healthy all summer and that was the big goal in 2014.

“He was able to achieve the objective to build innings and increase the workload. He was on a plan designed by (pitching coordinator) Gil Patterson and monitored by our medical people. He then made four more starts in the Instructional League to go a little longer,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to George King (subs. req’d). “Everybody walked away feeling good. He is still in the stage of where you have to watch him but he will be ready to roll in Spring Training. He will come in and compete for a job. The velocity was there and he developed a cutter as well.”

Now that he’s shaken off the rust after missing close to two full seasons, the objective for Banuelos goes from staying healthy all year to contributing at the MLB level. Finally. We all thought he would come up in 2012 and help out in some capacity, but the injuries threw a big wrench into that. Rotation, bullpen, whatever. Banuelos’ exact role will be determined by the team’s need at that time. The Yankees at least kicked around the idea of bringing him up relief this season, so we know they’re willing to do that.

In Justin Wilson and Jose DePaula, the Yankees added two left-handers a week or two ago who figure to be ahead of Banuelos on the depth chart. At least Wilson will be. I’m not sure about DePaula yet. Those two give the team the ability to be patient with Banuelos if they don’t think he’s ready. That said, everything is lined up for 2015 to be the year Banuelos finally breaks through and arrives in the big leagues. Will he be an impact pitcher right away? Maybe! But even if he isn’t, just reaching the show is the next step in his development. Banuelos has dealt with injury and rehab for the better part of three years now. Next year will be his chance to reclaim his top prospect glory and help the Yankees.

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Injury Updates: Pineda, Nova, Beltran, Banuelos

Allergic reaction to Gatorade, 60-day DL. (Presswire)
Allergic reaction to Gatorade, 60-day DL. (Presswire)

Mark Teixeira is back in the lineup tonight after leaving yesterday’s game because he took a pitch to the left foot. The Yankees dodged a bullet there. Here are some injury updates to pass along, courtesy of Dan Martin, Jorge Castillo, Marly Rivera, and Nick Peruffo:

  • Michael Pineda (shoulder) is fully expected to begin a throwing program this coming weekend, according to Joe Girardi. They are “pretty confident” the extra week of rest will knock out the lingering “trace” of inflammation. “Our doctors felt (another MRI) won’t be necessary. It’s a fairly minor amount of inflammation in there compared to what it was. Another week should be plenty sufficient,” said the skipper.
  • Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) is running and lifting light weights, but he won’t start throwing until late-August or September. That’s normal, his rehab is right on schedule so far. “I got to go outside and run a little bit,” he said. “I’m still two months away (from throwing). I still have a ways to go.”
  • Carlos Beltran (elbow) is currently throwing from 120 feet with no significant discomfort. He was expected to begin throwing to the bases over the weekend, and if that went well, they would come up with a plan and a firm timetable to get him back into right field.
  • Manny Banuelos (blisters) has been placed on the Double-A Trenton DL. He had some blister issues several years back. Banuelos missed most of 2012-13 with elbow problems, including Tommy John surgery.

Manny Banuelos to pitch for Double-A Trenton tomorrow

LHP Manny Banuelos is scheduled to pitch for Double-A Trenton tomorrow afternoon, according to Matt Kardos. He has been out a week or so with arm fatigue. After missing close to two full seasons and having Tommy John surgery, a little dead arm phase isn’t the most surprising thing in the world. I’m not sure if Banuelos will start or come out of the bullpen, but he’s been working short three and four-inning outings this year either way. Chances are they will take is slow his next few times out.

Manny Banuelos plays catch, will start in five days

Left-hander Manny Banuelos played catch today and had no problem with his sore/fatigued arm, according to Matt Kardos. He will start in five days and be held to either two innings or 35 pitches. Good news, obviously. Seems like Banuelos just ran into a little bit of a dead arm after missing close to two full years following a pair of elbow injuries, including Tommy John surgery.

Banuelos scratched from Double-A start with sore arm, DL possible

6:02pm: Banuelos told Peruffo it is more fatigue than soreness, which is good. Fits the idea of this stemming from not pitching for almost two years. He will rest for three days before playing catch.

6:00pm: LHP Manny Banuelos has been scratched from tonight’s scheduled start for Double-A Trenton, according to Nick Peruffo. Banuelos has soreness in his arm, though it’s unclear if it involves his surgically rebuilt elbow. A trip to the disabled list is possible and Matt Kardos says he will be evaluated in a few days.

Banuelos, 23, has a 4.03 ERA (~3.27 FIP) in 22.1 closely monitored innings split between High-A and Double-A this season as he returns from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees are obviously going to be very careful with the southpaw, so I would guess he winds up on the DL. Hopefully this is just normal soreness following surgery and not pitching for nearly two years.

Manny Banuelos and the second half of 2014

Still the most used photo in RAB history. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Still the most used photo in RAB history. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system coming into the season. In my stupid little Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, their top six and ten of their top 14 prospects were position players. Two of the four pitchers in the top 14 are with Low-A Charleston and another is an injury prone Triple-A reliever. The other is lefty Manny Banuelos, who was the team’s top prospect as recently as 2012.

Banuelos hurt his elbow twice during that 2012 season — first he suffered a bone bruise, then he tore his UCL during the rehab and needed Tommy John surgery — and he did not pitch at all last year. Banuelos missed close to two full seasons due to the injuries but he is fully healthy now and back pitching in the minors. Last night’s two-out, three-walk outing was a disaster, but overall he has 23 strikeouts and eight walks in 22.1 innings this year, which is pretty good following elbow reconstruction.

The Yankees have limited Banuelos to short, three-inning outings for the most part. Considering there is a lot of talk right now about the recent rash of second Tommy John surgeries (Jarrod Parker, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, etc.) stemming from teams and players being too aggressive during the first Tommy John surgery rehab process, I’m glad the Yankees are taking it slow with Banuelos. Here is his game log:

Rk Date Tm Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF Pit Str
1 2014-04-03 Tampa Yankees @ Lakeland Flying Tigers 3.0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 10
2 2014-04-08 Tampa Yankees @ Clearwater Threshers 3.0 4 0 0 0 2 0 1 14
3 2014-04-13 Tampa Yankees Daytona Cubs 3.0 0 0 0 0 6 0 0 9
4 2014-04-19 Tampa Yankees @ Daytona Cubs 0.2 5 4 4 0 1 0 0 7
5 2014-04-24 Tampa Yankees @ Lakeland Flying Tigers 3.0 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 10
6 2014-04-29 Trenton Thunder @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats 3.0 2 0 0 0 4 0 0 11 40 29
7 2014-05-04 Trenton Thunder Richmond Flying Squirrels 3.0 2 2 2 1 3 1 1 13 58 35
8 2014-05-09 Trenton Thunder Reading Fightin Phils 3.0 3 2 2 2 2 0 0 13 48 31
9 2014-05-14 Trenton Thunder Erie SeaWolves 0.2 2 2 2 3 0 0 0 7 33 17
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2014.

Banuelos was scheduled to work three innings in that April 19th start but got knocked out early because his pitch count was getting out of control. The same thing happened last night, though according to Nick Peruffo, Banuelos was scheduled to throw four innings for the first time this season. (He was scheduled to throw innings five through eight following Bryan Mitchell, who started and is working his way back from his own elbow injury.)

The Yankees took it very easy on Banuelos for the first five or so weeks of the season but now they are beginning to stretch him out. I’m sure he’ll throw four innings a handful of times before progressing up to five innings and eventually six. Obviously they’re doing this because of the elbow surgery, but that’s not the only reason. Banuelos is on some unknown innings limit this year and the Yankees want to make sure there are plenty available later in the season so he could help the big league team down the stretch.

“He’ll increase (the length of his outings) over the course of the year,” said VP of Baseball Ops Marks Newman to Chad Jennings recently. “We don’t want to cut back at the end of the year. You never know, if he makes great progress, maybe he’s a Major League option (at some point). We don’t want to run out of innings by September 1st or August 1st … We’re going to make sure we have enough innings left at the end of the year.”

The idea of taking it easy early in the season so there are plenty of innings left later in the year always makes me a little nervous because Banuelos could get hurt at some point — not necessarily re-injure the elbow, he could roll an ankle covering first base or something — and then he falls short of his prescribed innings total, leaving everyone stuck doing this again next year. I usually like getting the innings in early and shutting the guy down in the second half, especially prospects. That said, Banuelos is returning from a long layoff and major surgery, so I’m more than fine with it in this situation. That he might be in position to help the MLB squad in the second half is just a bonus.

(NY Times)
(NY Times)

Banuelos was said to be very advanced for his age — he just turned 23 in March even though it feels like he’s been around forever — before the injury but he was not big league ready, pitching to a 4.32 ERA (~3.88 FIP) with a 10.9% walk rate and a 1.83 K/BB ratio in 58.1 Triple-A innings before getting hurt. He had a 2.89 ERA (~3.45 FIP) with a 9.0% walk rate and a 2.73 K/BB ratio in 311 combined minor league innings before getting to Triple-A, so his trademark command had deserted him a bit. That’s one of the things he will need to iron out in the coming weeks before becoming a legitimate big league option.

The good thing is that Banuelos’ stuff has returned following elbow surgery, which is something we take for granted at times. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s 11th best prospect before the season and noted he was sitting “at 93-94 in simulated games last fall” in their Prospect Handbook, plus we saw him throw both his changeup and curveball in Spring Training. Harnessing that stuff is his biggest issue and that’s where the injury really hurts. It’s a lot of lost development time. He has to make up for a lot of lost innings.

Most importantly, Banuelos is healthy. He’s healthy and he’s pitching, something he wasn’t able to do for nearly two years. (Sunday is the two-year anniversary of the last time he pitched before this season.) Helping the Yankees later this season would be some major icing on the cake and I don’t think the team should be counting on him as anything more than a token September call-up. I know the big league staff is a bit of a wreck and the carrot has been dangled, but right now Banuelos should be focused on improving his command, getting innings under his belt, and putting himself in position to make the 2015 team. It looks like he is very much back on track following the elbow problems. It’s exactly what the Yankees wanted and needed to see from him this year.

Poll: The 2014 Prospect Watch

Last year's Prospect Watch. (Presswire)
Last year’s Prospect Watch. (Presswire)

Everyone is focused on Opening Day tomorrow and rightfully so, but let’s not forget the minor league season is right around the corner as well. The four full season affiliates open their seasons this coming Thursday, and obviously this is a huge year for the farm system. The Yankees need some prospects to take steps forward with their development and stay healthy following last summer’s injury and disappointment filled nightmare.

If you’re new to RAB, one of our regular features is the Prospect Watch. Every year we pick a prospect and track his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Past Prospect Watches include Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Jesus Montero, Andrew Brackman, and Mason Williams, among others. Last season we tracked Tyler Austin, who put up a disappointing .257/.344/.373 (103 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 366 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton while batting a wrist problem. Hopefully 2014 will go better, both for Austin and the Prospect Watch.

As we’ve done the last two years, we’re going to open up the Prospect Watch decision to the readers. I used to just pick a top prospect — it was pretty easy in the cases of Hughes, Joba, and Montero back in the day — but this is better. I don’t think there’s an obvious choice this year. In fact, I think there are too many good candidates. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Here are my eight hand-picked nominees (listed alphabetically) with their rank in my Preseason Top 30 List in parentheses. Vote at the bottom of the post.

OF Tyler Austin (4)
We’ve had the same player be the Prospect Watch in back-to-back years before (Montero) and I’m certainly not opposed to doing it again. Austin, 22, is only a year removed from his monster .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) campaign, during which he hit 17 homers and stole 23 bases. It’s important to keep in mind that his wrist gave him a problem early in camp, so he will be held back in Extended Spring Training as he prepares for the season. He won’t be ready to go on Thursday.

LHP Manny Banuelos (10)
Banuelos, 23, was our Prospect Watch back in 2011, a year before his elbow starting barking. He eventually had Tommy John surgery and he has not pitched in a regular season game since May 2012. Banuelos is healthy now and will start the season on time. The injury makes it easy to forget how good he was back in the day, like when he had a 2.51 ERA (~2.18 FIP) back in 2010. Banuelos is the only pitcher nominee for the Prospect Watch, not surprising given the state of the system.

1B Greg Bird (11)
No one in the farm system had a better statistical season in 2013. The 21-year-old Bird hit .288/.428/.511 (170 wRC+) with 20 homers and 107 walks for Low-A Charleston last season, a year that bests Austin’s 2012 effort. Bird, however, dealt with a back issue in camp and he will not start the season on time. Like Austin, he will open the year in Extended Spring Training making up for all the time he lost this spring.

OF Slade Heathcott (3)
Armed with a brand new 40-man roster spot, Heathcott is coming off a .261/.327/.411 (104 wRC+) season with Double-A Trenton, hitting 22 doubles, seven triples, and eight homers while stealing 15 bases. The 23-year-old has the loudest tools in the organization and could put it all together at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, like Austin and Bird, Heathcott will start the season in Extended Spring Training. He’s working his way back from offseason knee surgery.

3B Eric Jagielo (5)
Jagielo, 21, was the first of last summer’s three first round picks. His pro debut was a smashing success: .264/.376/.451 (152 wRC+) with six homeruns in 229 plate appearances. Jagielo is slated to open the season with High-A Tampa and as a polished college bat, he should have a field day with Single-A pitching.

OF Aaron Judge (7)
The 21-year-old Judge was the second of the team’s three first rounders last year. He did not play at all after signing due to a minor quad injury, but he is healthy now and will open 2014 with Low-A Charleston. Judge is physically huge (listed at 6-foot-7 and 255 lbs.) and he has huge raw power, enough that he could become the organization’s first true prospect to hit 25+ homers since Brandon Laird in 2010.

C Gary Sanchez (1)
The system’s top prospect for two years running has not yet been featured in our Prospect Watch. Sanchez, 21, hit .253/.324/.412 (~109 wRC+) with 27 doubles and 15 homers split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last year, and he will return to the Thunder to start 2014. Sanchez has the best combination of power, hitting skills, and overall approach in the organization, hence his status as the top prospect.

OF Mason Williams (6)
Two years ago we following the 22-year-old Williams and he had a marvelous season, hitting .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) with 11 homers and 20 steals in only 397 plate appearances. His follow-up performance wasn’t nearly as good, just a .245/.304/.337 (83 wRC+) batting line with four homeruns and 15 steals in 537 plate appearances. The raw talent is there though, Williams’ tools are right up there with Heathcott. Remember, he’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter and a 40-man roster spot is a great motivator.

* * *

I opted not to include C John Ryan Murphy, my number two prospect, because there’s a decent chance he’ll wind up in the big leagues as a backup, sitting around for days on end. Don’t want the Prospect Watch to go unused. I was planning to include RHP Ty Hensley in this post, but his recent hernia injury will keep him out for a few weeks. Others like 2B Gosuke Katoh and RHP Luis Severino fell victim to the numbers crunch. They’ll have more chances in the future.

The poll will remain open until 10am-ish ET on Wednesday, so you have plenty of time to vote if you’re unable to make up your mind right now. I know I can’t, so you’re not alone. Here’s the poll:

Update: Poll’s closed! Thanks for voting!