The Yankees’ strong scouting presence in Mexico has paid off in recent years. In 2008, the Yankees signed sixteen-year-old Manny Banuelos, veteran Alfredo Aceves and two others, out of the Mexican League for a (bargain) total of $450,000 in bonuses. While Aceves now pitches with the Red Sox, Banuelos has emerged as the Yankees’ top pitching prospect and one of the best left-handed pitchers in the minor leagues.
After highly successful stints in the low minors during his first two seasons, Banuelos returned from an appendectomy to dominate opposing hitters throughout his 2010 campaign. Through 64 innings in the Florida State and Eastern Leagues last season, nineteen year-old Banuelos shut down opposing batters en route to 2.51 ERA and 85 strikeouts (vs. 25 walks allowed). He’s continued to impress this offseason, earning a spot on the AFL Rising Stars roster last fall and drawing rave reviews from Yankees teammates while pitching in his first Spring Training.
Strengths: (Polish, Command, Changeup, Fastball)
Though Banuelos is a particularly short pitcher, standing (barely) at 5’10” tall and sporting a stocky build, he’s increased his fastball velocity from 89-92 mph in ‘08-’09 to an easy 92-94 mph. For his age and stature, his delivery is surprisingly easy, compact and repeatable, leaving scouts impressed with his Major League polish. He places his four-seamer in all four quadrants of the zone with textbook efficiency, and can blow his heater by hitters at 95-96 mph when the situation calls for more power. This spring, he’s shown the ability to cut his fastball low-and-inside to righties and he generates plenty of pop-ups and chopper groundballs.
Polish, command and control will take Banuelos to the Major Leagues, but his ability to work off of his hard fastball with his plus changeup makes him a top-tier prospect. His changeup has great two-seam tail and sink, and he uses the pitch’s impressive fade and velocity differential to embarrass guess-pitch righties. He throws his 82 mph change with identical arm action to his fastball, and spots it in the zone precisely. While he’ll lose the depth on his high 70s curveball from time to time, the pitch has above-average 11-5 break and has true strikeout potential against big league lefties.
Weaknesses: (Size/Stature, Inconsistent Curveball)
As an incredibly advanced nineteen-year-old southpaw, Banuelos has few doubters. While he easily generates plus velocity with near-flawless mechanics, his small stature remains the one knock on his profile, however. Outside of pitchers like Roy Oswalt and John Danks, few pitchers as small as Banuelos have had success as frontline starters in the big leagues. As a Yankees pitcher in the AL East, Banuelos will have to find success early and often if he wants to avoid the mass of doubt and negativity that’s seriously impeded the development of recent Yankees pitching prospects Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy.
Banuelos’ repertoire is already big league ready, however, his curveball could still use more seasoning. While it’s a slightly above-average pitch at present, it lacks consistent depth. Because he’s found so much success as a fastball-changeup pitcher throughout his career, he’ll lose feel for his curveball at times. As long as he can avoid flattening his curve out, he’ll be a formidable three-pitch lefty.
Summary: As an atypical, short lefty pitcher, Banuelos has done an immense job proving his doubters wrong. His easy, repeatable mechanics generate plus velocity on his fastball. His aptitude for pitching allows him to change-speeds like a veteran pitcher and to compete against older, more advanced batters. His ceiling might fall short of future ace, but he definitely has the potential to be a premium number-two starter or a closer. His profile lacks a valid comparison, but his pitching style and body type makes him somewhat comparable to a young version of David Wells.