Archive for Manny Banuelos
Frank asks: Can you give a rundown of what’s going on with Manny Banuelos? I know losing two years of development to injury has a way halting conversation, but he was our very best pitching prospect in the not-too-distant past, and he didn’t really do anything on the mound to dash all hope. Is there any chance he contributes to the big club in some capacity next season?
Banuelos, who is still only 22, has not pitched in a game since May 2012 due to a series of elbow problems, first a bone bruise and then Tommy John surgery. He reportedly tore the ligament while rehabbing from the bone bruise, which is why the surgery didn’t happen until October even though his season ended in May. Before the elbow problems, Banuelos missed about three weeks with a minor back issue. An appendetomy in 2010 rounds out his injury history.
Joel Sherman reported Banuelos was pitching in simulated games back in September and, a month later, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed to Chad Jennings the southpaw will be ready for Spring Training. They opted not to send him to winter ball just to give him a rest after rehabbing for what amounts to 15 straight months. “Newman said he was reaching 92-94 mph with a good changeup and getting breaking balls over the plate,” wrote Jennings back in October.
If we take Newman’s word for it, Banuelos is healthy and his stuff has returned following the two elbow injuries. I know Tommy John surgery has a very good track record but there’s always that small chance the guy is never the same again. It happened to J.B. Cox back in the day and Ryan Madson sure seems to be having a devil of a time following the procedure as well. Here is what Baseball America (subs. req’d) wrote about Banuelos before the 2013 season, when they ranked him the team’s eighth best prospect:
Before he got hurt, his fastball sat at 91-94 mph and touched 96, with good tailing life at the lower end of that velocity range. He also threw a sharp curveball in the upper 70s and a tumbling changeup, giving him two above-average secondary pitches at his best. He had trouble harnessing his livelier stuff and was unable to make adjustments to throw quality strikes prior to his injury.
Brian Cashman confirmed at the Winter Meetings that Banuelos is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton to start 2014 and that makes sense. He has not pitched in competitive games for a long time and he’ll get a chance to get back in the groove in an environment where results don’t matter. David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno give the team enough back of the rotation depth to start the year, so they’ll be able to bring Banuelos back slowly. As Baseball America indicated, he wasn’t exactly a finished product before the injury. The command (once his trademark) needs work.
Now, that said, I definitely think Banuelos could wind up helping the team at some point next season, probably in the second half. I thought he was in position to help them in the second half a year ago, before the elbow problems. The Yankees shouldn’t count on him for anything though, whatever he gives them is a bonus. Banuelos has lost enough development time these last two years. Next season has to be about getting back on track and ironing out the command first and foremost. If that leads to a big league audition — Banuelos is already on the 40-man roster — at some point, great. If not, there’s always 2015. He’s still so young.
Via Joel Sherman: Left-hander Manny Banuelos recently started pitching in simulated games as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. Three weeks ago we heard he was facing hitters in live batting practice down at the team’s complex in Tampa. Simulated games are a bit more intense though because you’re actually trying to get outs and throw full 15-20 pitch “innings” with no break between batters.
Banuelos, 22, had his surgery last October and the Yankees have been conservative with his rehab. Simulated games usually come 8-10 months after surgery according to Mike Dodd’s classic Tommy John rehab article, but Banuelos is already into his 11th month of rehab. No big deal really, he was expected to miss the entire season and the team has every reason to play it safe. Banuelos has missed close to two full years with elbow problems — he threw only 24 innings last year before getting hurt — and those are two pretty important development years at his age.
Banuelos’ winter ball rights are still control by his former Mexican League team in Monterrey, so the Yankees would have to jump through some hoops if they want the southpaw to get some innings over the winter. They did work out an agreement with Monterrey allowing him to pitch in the Arizona Fall League a few seasons ago. Bench coach Tony Pena usually manages in the Dominican Republic over the winter, so maybe they can figure out a way to get Banuelos there so he’s under a watchful eye.
Via Chad Jennings: LHP Manny Banuelos has been throwing batting practice at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa. He had Tommy John surgery last October. According to Mike Dodd’s classic TJS rehab article, Banuelos should begin pitching in game action relatively soon. I suppose he could make some winter ball starts after the season if the team is comfortable with his rehab. The 22-year-old made just six starts last year before hurting his elbow, so he’s missed nearly two full developmental years. I ranked Banuelos as the team’s 12th best prospect last month.
In other prospect injury news, OF Tyler Austin could be close to playing in games with the team’s Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He’s been out since mid-July with a bone bruise in his right wrist. The GCL season ends this coming Thursday — the other leagues end the following week — so there aren’t a whole lot of games left to play this year. I do think Austin is a prime Arizona Fall League candidate, however. Before the injury, he was hitting a disappointing .254/.344/.367 (101 wRC+) with six homers in 358 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton. I ranked Austin as the club’s fourth best prospect last month.
Six questions and five answers this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions or anything else at any time.
Nick asks: Could the Yankees target Chris Perez as a trade candidate? A deal similar to the Joel Hanrahan trade?
My first thought was no way, but my first thought is often wrong. Not only is Mariano Rivera retiring after this season, but Joba Chamberlain is likely to leave as a free agent too. David Robertson is awesome, but I think the Yankees should add some kind of Proven Veteran™ backup plan to the Shawn Kelleys and Preston Claibornes of the world. My preferred choice as of today is impending free agent Grant Balfour, but that is subject to change.
Perez, 27, owns a 2.25 ERA and 5.72 FIP in 16 innings this year. He’s run into some serious homer problems of late, serving up three to the last eight batters he’s faced. Since getting the closer’s job outright in 2010, Perez has pitched to a 2.80 ERA (3.88 FIP) with a strong strikeout (8.11 K/9 and 21.6 K%) rate but mediocre walk (3.53 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) and ground ball (34.7%) numbers. He managed to cut his walk rate to 2.50 BB/9 (6.6 BB%) last year, but that hasn’t stuck so far. I think we can say Perez is what he is at this point.
The Hanrahan comparison is perfect. Perez will be a free agent after the 2014 season, so acquiring him this winter means you’d be getting one year of a two-time All-Star, Capital-C Closer like the Red Sox got with Hanrahan. Would the Indians take a package of four spare parts like the Pirates did? Who knows. The Yankees could slap together a package of Dellin Betances, Zoilo Almonte, Eduardo Nunez … guys like that if the Indians will take quantity over quality. Perez has had some run-ins with the Indians brass over the years and could be available, but I want to see how he performs the rest of the season before going all-in.
Johnny asks: How would you handicap the chances of Yankees trading Phil Hughes before deadline?
I think they’re very, very small. This team lives and dies with its pitching as presently constructed, so I don’t see them giving up a rotation arm even if Hughes will be a free agent (and likely leaving) after the season. Maybe if Michael Pineda comes back strong, Ivan Nova figures things out in Triple-A, Vidal Nuno continues to impress in the show … maybe. I’d want a bat in return, preferably at shortstop or catcher. Someone who can help the team today, not prospects. Prospects suck.
Alex asks: Do you think that the Yankees’ preference for bat-first catchers has hindered the development of their minor league pitchers? The Yanks have seemed to be notoriously poor at bringing pitchers up to reach their ceiling for the past decade-plus.
It could be a factor, but I don’t think it’s a big one. Most minor league catchers stink at defense, and it’s not like Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy — the teams’ two most notable bat-first catchers — are atrocious defenders. Reports over the last 18 months or so have been very positive about their defensive improvement. Jesus Montero was a miserable defender though, and he did work with most of the team’s top young arms over the years.
I suppose having no confidence in the catcher blocking a breaking ball in the dirt or throwing out base-stealers could alter pitch selection, but pitchers are usually given a set number of pitches to throw per game. A team will tell their guy he needs to throw 25 curveballs or whatever per start as part of his development. Maybe bad defensive catchers have contributed to the team’s lack of success with starting pitching prospects, but I feel like it would be just a small part of the problem.
Mike asks: Is it time for some promotions in the minor league system? I know Dietrich Enns is 22 already, but he is blowing away the competition in A-ball (along with Rafael DePaula). These guys, along with Murphy and Sanchez, need to go up a level. Right?
Shep asks: Given his early success in Low-A and his “age,” how quickly do you think DePaula will climb the ladder? What is your prediction for his MLB debut?
Gonna lump these two together. We’re starting to approach promotion season, which usually takes place from mid-June through July, when the draft provides some new players to fill roster spots. Enns has been awesome — lefty with a 0.71 ERA (1.34 FIP) and 43/11 K/BB in 25.1 innings for Low-A Charleston — and I expect him to get bumped up to High-A Tampa at midseason. Murphy and Sanchez are repeating levels and have performed plenty well enough to earn midseason promotions. Some other obvious promotion candidates include (stats don’t include last night’s games):
- C Peter O’Brien: His defense is awful, but he’s hitting .328/.392/.586 (165 wRC+) with five homers for Low-A Charleston.
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: Hitting .335/.440/.451 (~158 wRC+) and has already been promoted once. Bumping him up to Double-A Trenton allows Angelo Gumbs to play second everyday with High-A Tampa as well.
- RHP Tommy Kahnle: 1.77 ERA (3.50 FIP) with 23 strikeouts and 13 walks in 20.1 innings. Another few weeks of that and he should be ready for Triple-A Scranton.
- RHP Shane Greene: Repeating High-A Tampa with a 3.07 ERA (2.36 FIP) and a 53/8 K/BB in 55.2 innings. Get this man to Double-A Trenton.
DePaula is another animal entirely. The numbers — 2.38 ERA (1.96 FIP) with a 74/19 K/BB in 45.1 innings — are outstanding for Low-A Charleston, but he’s also short on pitching experience because of his various layoffs (suspension, visa) despite being 22 years old. VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman told Chad Jennings a promotion isn’t imminent because he’s “got to develop secondary pitches. He hasn’t pitched that much competitively.”
I do think DePaula will get moved up to High-A Tampa at midseason, but he might spend another four or six weeks with the River Dogs first. Let’s see what happens when the league gets a second and third look at him, how he holds up physically under the workload, stuff like that. DePaula is on a weird development schedule and I’m generally not a fan of promoting starters after 50 or so dominant innings. As for his big league debut … second half of 2015 at the absolute earliest? DePaula will get promoted eventually, there’s no rush.
Travis asks: With the upcoming roster crunch (when DL players start coming back), is there going to come a point where is may make sense to bring Manny Banuelos up from the Triple-A DL to put him on the 60-day DL for MLB? I know they didn’t want to lose a year of control, but at the halfway point, would it be a lost year?
The Super Two date is sometime in early-June, so yeah, there’s a definitely a point where calling him up to clear a roster spot makes sense. Banuelos’ free agency has already been pushed back and they’re only two or three weeks from avoiding Super Two. They might actually be passed that date already since he’s not going to be in the big leagues on Opening Day next year.
There’s still some dead weight on the 40-man roster that can be trimmed — Ben Francisco, Reid Brignac, Melky Mesa, Francisco Rondon, etc. — but the Yankees have six guys expected to come off the 60-day DL in the next two months. Letting Banuelos accrue just a few weeks of service time would be no big deal under the circumstances.
Earlier today we learned RHP Ty Hensley is likely to miss the rest of the season following hip surgery, and now it’s time to get caught up on some other injured minor leaguers. Chad Jennings has all the updates…
- RHP Angelo Gumbs (finger) is a couple of weeks away from return to High-A Tampa. He’s playing in Extended Spring Training games now. Whenever he is ready, I have to think Rob Refsnyder will get bumped up to Double-A Trenton to make room.
- RHP Jose Ramirez started the season on the DL with fatigue, there was no injury. He pitched in winter ball and overextended himself a bit in big league camp, so they held him back. Ramirez has since rejoined the Double-A rotation.
- RHP Jose Campos (elbow) had a bone bruise last year according to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. Campos said himself it was a small fracture. I don’t know who to believe, but I suppose something could have been lost in translation.
- RHP Chase Whitley (oblique) is about ten days away from being activated and returning to game action. He might have been called up instead of Preston Claiborne last week had he been healthy.
- LHP Manny Banuelos (elbow) is on schedule as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. He’s expected to miss the rest of the year.
- OF Adonis Garcia (wrist) is taking batting practice while OF Ravel Santana (ankle) is playing in ExST. The ankle injury has completed derailed his career.
Every team deals with injuries, but it feels like the Yankees have dealt with a full season’s worth of injuries just during Spring Training. They lost three of their best four hitters to new injuries or setbacks in the last few weeks on top of some carry-over injuries from last year and the offseason. All of the injuries have led to a whole bunch of scrap heaping, forcing the Yankees to grab guys like Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Lyle Overbay, and Vernon Wells these last few weeks.
Some of the team’s injured players will be back sooner than others, and some injuries figure to have more long-term impact that others. As always, expected return dates should be taken a grain of salt. Setbacks and lingering effects have a way of changing plans in a hurry. Let’s run down the team’s walking wounded heading into the 2013 campaign.
LHP Manny Banuelos
New York’s top prospect at this time last year, the 22-year-old Banuelos made just six starts for Triple-A Scranton last year due to a minor back issue and a major elbow issue. He was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise in that left elbow, but at some point during his rehab he wound up blowing out the ligament and requiring Tommy John surgery. Banuelos had the procedure in October and is expected to miss the entire season, meaning he’ll lose basically two full years to injury at a crucial age in his development. For shame.
LHP Cesar Cabral
It’s easy to forget that Cabral, 24, had all but won a job out of Spring Training last year before suffering a fractured elbow near the end of camp. He has been rehabbing for the last 12 months and in fact he faced hitters for the first time since the injury earlier this week, throwing a round of live batting practice. The Yankees have indicated he is expected to return sometime in May or June.
Because he’s a Rule 5 Draft pick who missed all of last season due to injury, the Yankees have to keep Cabral on their active 25-man roster for at least 90 days this year. That’s basically half the season. Once they satisfy that requirement, he’ll is theirs to keep (and option to Triple-A). I’m sure the team will take their time with his rehab and everything, but at some point it will be decision time.
RHP Phil Hughes
Joe Girardi announced yesterday that Hughes will indeed start the season on the DL after missing a few weeks with a bulging disk in his back. He’s been starting minor league games and has a few more outings to go before rejoining the rotation, possibly as soon as the second time through. The 26-year-old Hughes has a lengthy injury history, but the back issue appears to be in the rear-view mirror.
SS Derek Jeter
The Cap’n played on a bone bruise in his left ankle last September and it wasn’t until Game One of the ALCS that the joint finally gave out and fractured. He had surgery in October and spent the winter rehabbing, but he was recently setback by some inflammation and soreness. He received a cortisone shot and will start the season on the DL, yet the targeted April 6th return date sure seem optimistic since he won’t resume baseball activity until at least Monday.
Given his age, position, and the nature of the injury, there’s a pretty good chance Jeter and the Yankees will have to deal with nagging soreness and tightness and all that all throughout the season. Players who suffered similar injuries (Stephen Drew, Jason Kendall, even Ravel Santana) needed months to get back to where they were before the injury, and time is a luxury the Yankees don’t have. They need Jeter in the lineup soon and if this thing lingers, it will be a huge problem. Eduardo Nunez has the chance of a lifetime in front of him and is suddenly an extremely important player for the 2013 Yankees. That is not ideal.
CF Curtis Granderson
The fifth pitch Granderson saw this spring broke his forearm. The 32-year-old is expected to be out until early-May, but anytime you have an arm or hand or wrist injury, there is the potential for it to linger. Granderson is the team’s top power hitter and he really doesn’t offer much else (besides walks), so anything that compromises his pop will severely impact his game. Everything is going well as far as the healing process, but I’m anxious to see how he returns and whether that forearm gives him trouble going forward.
RHP Michael Pineda
Even though he has yet to throw a single meaningful pitch in his 14 months as a Yankee, the 24-year-old Pineda is one of the most important players in the organization. The Yankees are in desperate need of a young impact player to build on going forward, and Pineda has the type of arm and power stuff to anchor a rotation. Or at least he had that type of stuff before blowing out his labrum last spring.
The long road back from shoulder surgery has Pineda to throw live batting practice in two weeks. It’ll be his first time facing hitters since having the procedure. So far he’s rehab has gone well — he’s throwing 45-pitch bullpens, including changeups and sliders — and everyone says he looks great, but what he looks like in the bullpen and how he performs against hitters are different matters entirely.
As encouraging as it is to know his rehab is going well, we have absolutely no idea what Pineda will be capable of when he gets back on a mound in a competitive game. It was a major injury and although there are some notable success stories — Curt Schilling, Rogers Clemens, Anibal Sanchez — there are countless guys who never got back to their previous form. The Yankees need Pineda and need him to be very good going forward. He’s expected to return sometime in late-May or June, and I bet they option him to Triple-A Scranton for a few weeks just to delay his free agency a year (after losing an entire pre-arbitration year to injury in 2012).
LHP Clay Rapada
A bout of shoulder bursitis has landed the 32-year-old Rapada on the DL to start the season and there is no timetable for him return. He’s been sidelined for about three weeks now and has yet to resume throwing in the bullpen, so it’s safe to say his return is not imminent. Rapada is the team’s most effective left-on-left reliever, but as a true specialist, he isn’t the most critical or irreplaceable part in the world. The Yankees are a worse team without him, but not much worse.
3B Alex Rodriguez
The second hip surgery — this one the left after hurting the right in 2009 — of A-Rod‘s career will have him out of action until at least the All-Star break. He has a cyst removed, a bone impingement corrected, and a torn labrum repaired in January and has yet to resume baseball activities. He’s not even close to resuming baseball activities.
The Yankees knew A-Rod, now 37, would miss a big chunk of the season back in December, which is why they dropped $12M on Kevin Youkilis. Alex was both the healthier (529 vs. 509 plate appearances) and more productive (114 vs. 102 wRC+) player last season, so the Yankees downgraded this winter. No one has any idea what A-Rod will be able to do after the surgery, so there’s really no point in speculating. He could be an all-arms hitter incapable of using his lower half, he could be healthier than ever and see his performance rebound, he could be something else entirely. Either way, the lineup will miss his bat from the right side.
1B Mark Teixeira
Teixeira, 32, hurt the tendon sheath in his right wrist while taking batting practice with Team USA in advance of the World Baseball Classic, so if nothing else the Yankees won’t have to pay his salary while he’s on the DL — the WBC’s insurance covers that. The wrist injury is expected to keep him out until late-May/early-June, but wrist injuries have a knack for lingering. In fact, Brian Cashman acknowledged there’s a 30% chance he will need season-ending surgery at some point.
Even if he comes back healthy, Teixeira has become increasingly injury prone in recent years after being an iron man earlier in his career. He suffered a major hamstring strain during the 2010 postseason, and last year he battled a cough, a minor wrist issue, and a calf strain (plus a setback). The right wrist is his power wrist as a left-handed batter, which could be a problem because power is his primary source of value. Teixeira has declined as a hitter these last few years because he’s become increasingly pull happy, so anything that hurts his ability to hit the ball out of park could be a production killer.
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
Number two starters don’t garner the attention of aces nor generate the same kind of rosterbation as back-end guys, but they’re obviously very important to a team’s success. The Yankees are lucky to have two pitchers who would qualify as a number two in most rotations, though the club figures to slot in a right-hander behind CC Sabathia to break up the lefties.
It’s funny to look back and remember that at this time last year, Hiroki Kuroda was considered a question mark. He was an older pitcher moving from a big park in the NL to a small park in the AL, and that is usually the recipe for a disaster. Instead, the 38-year-old right-hander was the team’s most consistently excellent starter from Opening Day through the postseason, pitching to a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP) in a career-high 219.2 innings. Kuroda liked his time in New York so much that he turned down more lucrative offers from other clubs this winter to take a one-year deal worth $15M from the Yankees.
Despite that performance, the combination of age and career-high workload — 236.2 innings between the regular season and postseason — make Kuroda a bit of a question mark going into the season. He battled fatigue last September, so much so that he had to stop throwing his regular between-starts bullpen to stay fresh. Kuroda modified his offseason routine in an effort to stay fresher later into the season, but it remains to be seen how much good that will actually do. Heck, it might even do bad for all we know.
One thing we do know is Kuroda is tough as nails — this story is still mind-blowing — and incredibly savvy on the mound. He battles every time out and his dud starts have nothing to do with a lack of effort of preparation. I do wonder how being away from Russell Martin will impact Kuroda — his worst full season in terms of ground ball and homer rate came the year Martin didn’t catch him, which could just be a coincidence but is obviously something no one wants to repeat — given all the time the two worked together both last year and with the Dodgers. There will have to be some adjustments there on both the pitcher’s and catcher’s part, hopefully a seamless one.
As was the case last summer, the Yankees are going to rely on Kuroda as their number two starter behind Sabathia and will expect the same kind of reliable, consistent performances. He’s a year older with a few more miles on the arm, but he’s not carrying those NL-to-AL, big park-to-small park transition questions. Frankly I think the transition stuff is a greater concern than age, but that’s just me. Kuroda’s smarts and deep arsenal make me feel really good about his chances to repeat last season’s success.
Knocking on the Door
Just like with the ace-caliber guys yesterday, the Yankees won’t have a projected future number two starter in Triple-A this summer. Left-hander Manny Banuelos would have been that guy had he not blown out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, but he won’t be a factor until 2014 at the earliest. Then again, durability is one of the things keeping from that frontline starter ceiling. I guess that means if he was healthy, Banuelos wouldn’t have projected as a number two, but instead something more. Anyway, the Yankees definitely have some future number twos in the system, but none of them are in the upper minors. Bummer.
The Top Prospect
New York’s top number two starter prospect outside of the injured Banuelos is last summer’s first rounder, righty Ty Hensley. He ranked eighth on my preseason top 30 prospects list. The 19-year-old from Oklahoma has a dominant fastball-curveball mix and the size — listed at 6-foor-4 and 220 lbs. — that suggests future durability, but he lacks command and a third pitch. He needs the latter more than the former to reach his ceiling, both figuring out both in the next few seasons would give him true ace potential. For now he’s someone you close your eyes and see a future number two starter without having to try real hard.
The Deep Sleeper
I’m a big fan of right-hander Gio Gallegos, who didn’t crack my preseason top 30 but did make the not top 30 list as a prospect who could jump into next year’s top 30. His top atrribute is his command and control of a solid fastball-curveball mix, but he needs to work on his third pitch and show he can hold up while starting every five days across a full season. I might be stretching a bit with the “future number two starter” stuff here, but like I said, I’m a big fan of Gallegos. Forgive me for being a little extra optimistic.
* * *
Kuroda is among the best number two starters in the game, a proven veteran with a great package of stuff, savvy, and command. His importance to the Yankees is easy to understate given the bigger names on the roster, but the club needs him to be as strong and reliable as he was a year ago. It’s imperative thanks to the depleted offense. The minor league system offers a few prospects who project as number two type starters down the road, but none at the upper levels of the minors or capable of making an immediate impact.
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
The term “ace” gets thrown around far too liberally these days. Technically every team has an ace in the sense that someone has to start Opening Day, but very few pitchers are true, bonafide number one starters. Those are the guys who provide both quality and quantity — they take the ball every five days and pitch deep into the game. Just as importantly, they do it every single year. It’s possible for a pitcher to have an ace-like year in any given season (coughEstebanLoiazacough), but the guys who do it year after year stand out from the pack. Those are the true aces.
CC Sabathia is a true ace. Despite two DL stints — including the first arm injury of his career — the 32-year-old still rattled off his sixth consecutive year of 200+ innings with a sub-3.40 ERA in 2012. The number of other big leaguers who have done that: zero. Raise the bar to a sub-3.60 ERA and it’s still zero. Sabathia was the difference in the ALDS against the Orioles, allowing just three runs in an LDS round record 17.2 innings. That’s an 8.2-inning start in Game One and a complete-game in Game Five. The Yankees and Orioles played five very tight games, but the difference was Sabathia shoving it in the first and last games of the series.
Going into 2013, CC is more of a question mark than he has been at any other point as a Yankee. He had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow in late-October, which slowed his pace in Spring Training ever so slightly. The good news is Sabathia has been throwing with no complications or pain or even unexpected soreness in recent weeks, so he remains on target to start Opening Day. That said, his fastball velocity did drop more than one mile an hour from 2012 to 2013. It’s a concern because of his age and all the mileage on his arm, if nothing else.
Despite the DL stints and reduced fastball, Sabathia was excellent last season — 3.38 ERA and 3.31 FIP — so excellent that his strikeout (8.87 K/9 and 23.7 K%) and walk (1.98 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates were the second best of his career behind his monster 2008 campaign with the Indians and Brewers. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild came to New York with a reputation for increasing strikeout rates and reducing walk rates, and sure enough Sabathia has posted a 8.79 K/9 (23.5 K%) and a 2.16 BB/9 (5.8 BB%) during his two years under Rothschild after managing a 7.59 K/9 (20.6 K%) and 2.71 BB/9 (7.4 BB%) during his first two years in pinstripes. One year is a fluke but two years are a trend, as they say.
The Yankees have internally discussed scaling back Sabathia’s workload going forward in an effort to keep him healthy and just fresher late into the season. That could mean treating him as a 200-inning pitcher rather than a 230-inning pitcher — one fewer inning per start, basically — but that’s much easier said than done. Sabathia is, by his own admission, a rhythm pitcher who is at his best with more work, not less. Finding the balance between lightening the overall workload and remaining super-effective will be difficult.
Either way, Sabathia is a benefit of the doubt guy. I assume he’ll remain a workhorse of the first order and highly effective until he isn’t. The elbow surgery and reduced velocity are red flags, but they have yet to manifest themselves in a meaningful way. I still expect CC to strike out a ton of batters in his 200-something innings while keeping his ERA under 3.50. He’s been doing it nearly a decade now and I’m not going to doubt him. At some point Sabathia will decline, but I don’t expect it to happen just yet.
Knocking on the Door
There are only a handful of minor league prospects who project as future aces — don’t confuse ace stuff with being a projected ace — and the Yankees don’t have any of them, especially not at the Triple-A level. The only pitcher who is slated to open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation with ace-caliber stuff is Dellin Betances, who lacks everything else a pitcher needs to be an ace: command, durability, etc. Brian Cashman already acknowledged the club will start the 24-year-old Betances in the Triple-A rotation despite his miserable season a year ago, but this is his final minor league option year and I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to move the big right-hander into the bullpen if he doesn’t show improvement within the first few weeks of the season.
The Top Prospect
The Bombers have a farm system that is top heavy in position players — the top five prospects on my preseason top 30 list were all position players — especially since their best pitching prospects all seem to be coming off injury. The best combination of ace-caliber stuff and command in the system belongs to 22-year-old Manny Banuelos, who will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery. His command started to waver in 2011 though, maybe due to the elbow problem.
Right-hander Jose Campos lacks a defined breaking ball while right-hander Ty Hensley lacks command in addition to having basically zero professional experience. Righty Bryan Mitchell has nasty stuff, missing bats with a mid-90s fastballs and a knockout curveball, but he lacks command as well. Perhaps the best current ace package in the system belongs to 23-year-old Jose Ramirez, who is organization’s consistently hardest thrower with a swing-and-miss changeup and a promising slider. That said, he’s battled arm injuries and command throughout his five-year career. The Yankees don’t have a minor league pitcher who clear projects as an ace, but Ramirez is probably the closest. He’s a long way from that ceiling, however. A very long way.
The Deep Sleeper
The Yankees were very, very patient when it came to signing soon-to-be 22-year-old Rafael DePaula. They originally agreed to sign him for $500k back in November 2010, but it wasn’t until March 2012 that the right-hander was approved for a visa and the contract became official. Because he wasn’t allowed to play in actual games while waiting for his visa, DePaula lost a lot of crucial development time these last two years. With command of a mid-90s fastball and low-80s curveball, he’s the best bet in the organization to emerge with the “future ace” label over the next 12 months. DePaula figures to start with High-A Tampa this year, but the Yankees could opt to hold him back with Low-A Charleston given the lack of experience.
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Sabathia is one of the game’s ten best pitchers and pretty clearly the second most important Yankee heading into the 2013 season. He’s truly irreplaceable. The Bombers don’t have any clear-cut ace-caliber pitching prospects in the minors — just a collection of guys with good stuff or good command or good health, but not all three. It’s a problem going going forward given the team’s plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 (and beyond), so they’ll have to get creative to pull it off. Either that or hope for good luck.
Got four questions with some pretty long answers today, so this is a hefty mailbag relative to most weeks. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or another.
Several people asked: What about Drew Stubbs?
When the Indians agreed to sign Michael Bourn earlier this week, the first thing pretty much everyone seemed to think was that either Michael Brantley or Stubbs were trade bait. Manager Terry Francona shot that down by saying they plan to play Brantley, Bourn, and Stubbs in the outfield with Nick Swisher at first base and Mark Reynolds at DH, but a trade should never be ruled out. Jon Heyman says the team is getting calls about its spare outfielders.
I wrote about the 28-year-old Stubbs early in the offseason, before the Reds traded him to the Tribe as part of the Shin-Soo Choo-Trevor Bauer deal. He was awful overall last season — 64 wRC+ with a 30.5% strikeout rate — but he continued to hit left-handers (111 wRC+) while providing plenty of value on the bases (30+ steals in three straight years) and in the outfield. Rather than rehash everything here, I suggest clicking the link and reading the previous post for the gory details. The short version is that I wouldn’t use him against righties at all but would everywhere else.
Cleveland signed Stubbs to a one-year, $2.825M contract last month, and he remains under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015. I’d be all over him for the right-handed bench bat role if I was the Yankees, mostly because he’s affordable and will produce just as much against lefties as Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz while contributing far more outside the batter’s box. He’d give them a right-handed platoon bat and a late-inning pinch-runner. I don’t know what the Indians would seek in return, but if they’d take a depth arm like Adam Warren or a miscellaneous prospect like Corban Joseph, I’d be all over it.
Via Dan Barbarisi: Top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos has started playing catch as part of his rehab from Tommy John surgery. He had the procedure in early-October, so he’s roughly four months out and right on schedule according to Mike Dodd’s classic article. As I said in my Top 30 Prospects post yesterday, I don’t expect the Yankees to have Banuelos throw in winter ball after the season. They’ll probably bring him to camp next year fresh and ready to go.