Tommy John strikes again. Before 2011, LHP Manny Banuelos was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the New York Yankees’ system. So what happened to him?
As is so often the case, injuries happened. The Yankees signed the young lefty in 2008 from the Mexican League. He remained relatively healthy (save a 2010 appendectomy) until 2012. Throughout his time in the minors, Banuelos developed a mid-90s fastball with a better than good changeup and curve to complement it.
He was invited to spring training in 2011, and he won the James P. Dawson award annually given to the best rookie in camp. He spent that season with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and came back to camp in 2012.
Unfortunately, two elbow injuries struck in the 2012 season. First, Banuelos suffered a bone bruise, and while rehabbing that injury apparently tore a ligament in his elbow, resulting in the need for Tommy John surgery. He had to complete the bone bruise rehab before having Tommy John, so the surgery was delayed until October, 2012.
Luckily for the Yankees he has been rehabbing ever since, and according to VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman things are progressing well.
Mariano Rivera once called Banuelos the best pitching prospect he’s ever seen, and he’s still incredibly young at age 22. With the fastball as his bread and butter, it’s possible that his 15-month Tommy John rehab made him even better. While there have been instances of Tommy John gone wrong, the surgery generally yields good results and occasionally the lengthy rehabs produce increased strength and durability.
GM Brian Cashman has said that Banuelos will start 2014 in Triple-A, but don’t be surprised if he is called up later in the season, especially if anyone toward the bottom of the rotation struggles.
If you’re of the optimistic variety, you might even consider the idea that the Yankees have some decent starting pitching depth, even without Masahiro Tanaka. Get ready for a lot of ifs. If CC Sabathia can regain some consistency, if Hiroki Kuroda has some of that old reliable gas left in the tank, if Ivan Nova performs like he did last year, if David Phelps gets in a groove and if Michael Pineda successfully pitches his first big league game in pinstripes, then the Yankees might not even need Banuelos or Tanaka!
Of course, that is a lot of ifs, and it doesn’t even include the biggest if of all – if everyone stays healthy. If the Yankees don’t get Tanaka, it’s good to know that they have a promising young prospect on the mend and on the road to the Bronx.