Manny Banuelos was 17-years-old when the New York Yankees bought him from the Mexican League in 2008 (the same deal that brought Alfredo Aceves to the Bronx). He immediately began to dominate the Minor Leagues and almost made it to the Show in 2011. However, after facing injuries and control issues, he has regressed since.
In 2008, Banuelos went 4-1 in Rookie League ball with a 2.57 ERA and a 1.071 WHIP. He proved those numbers were no fluke with an equally strong performance the following year. After being promoted to Single-A, he went 9-5 with a 2.64 ERA and 1.064 WHIP. That campaign earned him a spot in the All-Star Futures Game.
2010 marked the first setback in Banuelos’ young career when an appendectomy forced him to miss much of the season. Still, the young southpaw turned lemons into lemonade by focusing on conditioning while he was out of commission. He came back strong — his fastball was harder, his curveball was sharper and he was really starting to look like a potential front-of-the-rotation starter according to scouting reports. He spent most of the season with High-A Tampa where he went 0-3 on the year, but he posted a 2.23 ERA and struck out 62 in 44.1 innings pitched.
Because of his early success, Banuelos was highly-touted entering 2011. MLB.com ranked him as the twelfth-best prospect in baseball and the fourth-best left-handed pitcher behind Matt Moore, Martin Perez and Tyler Skaggs (all three are currently Major Leaguers). He was invited to the Yankees’ Spring Training for the first time in his career where he won the James P. Dawson Award as the best rookie in camp. Though he didn’t make the Major League roster, Mariano Rivera said Banuelos was the best pitching prospect he’d ever seen.
Unfortunately, Minor League batters didn’t care what Rivera had to say. In 27 games between Double-A Tampa and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Banuelos struggled with a 6-7 record, 3.75 ERA and 1.550 WHIP. His strikeout rate remained impressive at 8.7 SO/9, but even that mark had dipped from 11.8 the previous season.
2012 was even worse for Banuelos. He only made six starts in Triple-A (0-2, 4.50 ERA) before he was shut down in May due to elbow problems. After failed rehab attempts, Tommy John surgery in October forced him to miss the entire 2013 season.
Banuelos will turn 23-years-old in March. He’s listed at 5-foot-10, 155-pounds. Before surgery, his fastball was consistently in the mid-90s and was complemented by an above-average curveball and change-up.
According to ESPN’s Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand, Banuelos has an outstanding chance to make the 2014 Opening Day roster as a reliever. If not, he’ll likely be the first mid-season call-up as a starter or reliever. Much will depend on whether or not he can return to form as one of the most promising pitching prospects in the Yankees’ organization.