Holiday Mailbag: Manny Banuelos

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

email

Sherman: Manny Banuelos is pitching in simulated games

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.

Prospect Injury Notes: Banuelos throwing BP, Austin close to game action

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.

Mailbag: Perez, Hughes, Catchers, Promotions

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.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

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.

(David Schofield/Lakewood Blue Claws)
(David Schofield/Lakewood Blue Claws)

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.

Prospect Injury Updates: Gumbs, Whitley, Ravel

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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.