Friday, March 4, 2011

Manny Banuelos: Why the New York Yankees May Possess MLB’s Next Big Thing

Yankees stud prospect Manny Banuelos may be just 19 years old, but his pitching arsenal already resembles that of a 10-year MLB veteran. Add to that a presence of the mound that screams “I belong here,” and the teenager has all the tools for superstardom.

Avoiding the hype train from running off the rails is very difficult, as New York City is buzzing with the thought of Banuelos donning pinstripes in meaningful big league games. Expectations need to be corralled as much as possible, but everyone from fans, players, management personnel, and rival scouts have a hard time keeping his name off of their tongues.

Banuelos has already drawn comparisons to a young Ron Guidry, the next Johan Santana, and a more advanced Clayton Kershaw (from Kershaw’s former backstop and current Yankee Russell Martin).

This lofty praise can often rattle someone as young as Man-Ban, but he is more than taking it all in stride. In a recent interview on the YES Network, he said he wants to be better than anyone he’s compared to, and he “wants to change NY’s mind and pitch this year” in MLB.

It is easy to display such easy confidence when your arm appears like a descendant of one of Zeus’ lightning bolts. He possesses an easy delivery that still produces 95-97 MPH, an elite MLB-level changeup, and a rapidly improving curveball. Oh, did I mention he’s left-handed?

Standing just 5’10” explains the Guidry symmetry, but any injury worries based on his small stature can be silenced by his strong bottom half and smooth mechanics. No one is immune to injury, but Banuelos seems far less a risk than “max effort” types.

In a recent spring game against the Boston Red Sox, he displayed each and every skill that has wowed scouts for the last 18 months. He threw changeups in 1-0 counts, biting curves in 2-0 counts, spotted fastballs at 95 on the black to righties, and showed knowledge of the importance of pitch sequences.

Banuelos’ final pitch was a 96 MPH fastball out of the stretch, and could have been caught by a blind man as it exploded with late life directly into Martin’s glove.

Mid-game interviews with Joe Girardi and Alex Rodriguez both produced gleaming smiles and awe-inspired compliments about the young lefty, and for once they were not embellishing. Aside from the otherworldly debut months of Joba Chamberlain in 2007, no Yankees prospect has been this impressive this early in a very long time.

After striking out 85 in just 62.2 IP at Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, it is expected that Banuelos will begin 2011 back at Double-A. He will quickly rise to Triple-A Scranton, but then then 20-year-old will have to really shine to be a September call-up.

He has never thrown more than 109 innings in one season, and an appendectomy limited him to the previously mentioned 62.2 in 2010. Yankees brass will take it easy with him, and as such will be reluctant to push him up the ranks too soon.

The problem is that just like a young boy with a shiny new toy, it will be virtually impossible for them to hold him back for long—especially if his curveball continues to rise from “new pitch” to “unhittable weapon”.

Like with any young hurler, there are a seemingly infinite number of hurdles for him to jump over to reach his full potential, but did Yankee scouts find the game’s next top ace on a small field in Mexico three years ago?

New York had better hope that they have, because their luxury of poaching drool-provoking talents from foreign countries (Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez, Robinson Cano, Banuelos) may soon be coming to an end.

If MLB puts into place an amendment that will force all international prospects to be a part of the Rule 4 Draft, signings like these will dry up for the Yankees and other big-market clubs.

That said, there is nothing they can do to pry Banuelos from their grasp, and fans all over the metropolitan area are begging GM Brian Cashman to turn down all offers for the young stud.

Could he turn out to be the next Mark Prior, Brien Taylor, Andrew Miller, or Dewon Brazleton? Absolutely, but it’s looking more and more like they may have found the next Johan Santana, David Price, or Adam Wainwright.

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