With all the hype in New York surrounding the blockbuster acquisition of Masahiro Tanaka, plus the return of Michael Pineda, it’s been easy to forget about another Yankee pitcher who quietly has resurfaced. That hurler would be the once-heralded Mexican southpaw by the name of Manny Banuelos.
You remember Manny Banuelos, right? He’s the kid who Mariano Rivera called, “the best prospect I’ve ever seen.” Mo tried to take the little lefty under his wing whenever possible, and Manny sucked in the wisdom like a damp sponge.
As Banuelos and his amigo, giant right-hander Dellin Betances, began to rise through the minor leagues, top Yankee executives were anticipating greatness, including General Manager Brian Cashman. But the 6′-8″, 260 pound Betances, a Dominican who grew up in the rough and tumble Harlem neighborhood of Washington Heights, has been unable to throw strikes consistently during his brief career. As for Banuelos, a native of bustling Gomez Palacio in northern Mexico, nagging injuries have been a frustrating disappointment
It’s not like the Yankees haven’t tried to take care of Banuelos. From the very moment this youngster signed on as a frail, 5′-10″, 155 pound teenager, management has almost “babied” their prize investment with the explosive left arm. Unfortunately, numerous elbow issues forced Banuelos to undergo Tommy John reconstructive surgery in fall of 2012, and he spent all of last year concentrating on rest and rehab.
The good news is that Banuelos has bounced back sooner than expected, and is currently engaged in an advanced throwing program in preparation for live action. He also has added some muscle and weight, now tipping the scales at about 195 pounds. And while the Yankees are cautiously optimistic, Manny is pretty damn excited.
“This is going to be my year,” predicts Banuelos. “The elbow feels great, back to normal.”
Manny Banuelos is probably a long shot to break camp with the Yankees, especially in his projected role as a starting pitcher. But many insiders within the organization feel it might be advantageous to keep Banuelos on the varsity, even as a reliever, just to keep a closer eye on him. It will be a numbers game, with a lot depending on the progress of Vidal Nuno, another young southpaw with an intriguing makeup. A strike-throwing machine who the Yankees plucked out of an independent league last season, Nuno is a 26-year-old Mexican-American viewed as a possible fifth starter or long guy out of the bullpen. But he isn’t a lock to make the club either.
Unless there is an unexpected setback, however, Manny Banuelos will be pitching in Yankee Stadium at some point this season. So, the carefree but competitive Latino continues to refine his late-breaking curve and filthy change-up after a layoff of almost two years. And Banuelos is secretly hoping to hook up with his mentor, the Cooperstown-bound Rivera, when the Yankees play a pair of games against the Miami Marlins in Panama City, March 15-16. Whether that happens depends on a split-squad scenario ultimately decided by skipper Joe Girardi.
If it were up to me, though, I think it would be an awesome reunion and a no-brainer decision. Maybe Mo will even give Manny a few tips on throwing that legendary cutter.