New York City has always been a melting pot of faces, cultures and languages. The place is a classic slice of Americana, the fabric that makes our nation so special. More specifically, the Big Apple is home to nearly 3 million Hispanics. And for the past two decades, the New York Yankees have been keenly aware of its growing, Spanish-speaking fan base.
When the Yankees began to dominate the baseball scene again in the 1990s, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte shared the spotlight with Latino players Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. In addition, the “Core Four” had a supporting cast of stars such as the popular Bernie Williams of Puerto Rico and flamboyant Cuban exile Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Alex Rodriguez heads the marquee these days, but all eyes are on young phenoms Robinson Cano, Eduardo Nunez and Ivan Nova.
So when Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman failed to land ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in tough negotiations before the trade deadline, he sat on his hands and did nothing. Why? Because his colleagues wanted access to a bumper crop of youngsters down on the farm, most of whom happen to be of Latino decent. Not able to improve the team with outside talent, which was a shock, Cashman was faced with a dilemma. He knew the Bronx mentality. Any season that doesn’t end in a world championship is considered a failure. So although the temptation is great to promote his golden prospects, patience must be exercised.
“We aren’t going to rush these kids,” Cashman insists. “They need to develop and mature.”
Good intentions? Yes, but not very realistic.
Many fans feel the organization’s No.1 prospect, Jesus Montero, deserves a shot now. The 21-year-old Venezuelan failed a fast track to “The Show” when the season began, and has spent the summer at triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, hitting right around the .300 mark. Montero has maintained good power numbers while cutting down on strikeouts, and is expected to be called up soon.
The Yankees pitching staff has been an enigma all season, especially the starting rotation. Beyond CC Sabathia, veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have been the only hurlers who have shown any consistency. That’s why it’s been so important for Nova to pitch well since his recent promotion, and the 24-year-old Dominican has been clutch. Right-hander Delin Betances has had command issues at double-A Trenton this season. But he’s notched 103 strikeouts in 93 innings and throws easy, 98 mph gas.
Then there’s 20-year-old Manny Banuelos, who happens to be the Yankees’ most polished “Diaper Dandy.” The crafty Mexican left-hander threw beyond expectations in spring training, and media members wondered why he wasn’t part of the opening day roster. Cashman reasoned the youngster wasn’t even legally able to buy a beer yet. But when southpaw relief specialist Pedro Feliciano had another setback with his injured shoulder in early July, a Banuelos call-up became inevitable.
A starter in the minors, Banuelos had mediocre stats at Trenton, but pitched much better at the next level against tougher competition. He mixes a 95 mph, two-seam fastball with an above average curve and change-up. But it’s the mound presence and cool demeanor of Banuelos that intrigues scouts the most. Not surprisingly, he’s been taken under the wing of Rivera, who has offered fatherly guidance on and off the field.
“Manny’s a great kid,” notes Mariano, “and he’s the best pitching prospect I’ve ever seen.”
All during August, Cashman will be watching the waiver wire, hoping a name such as Felix Hernandez or Wandy Rodriguez will appear in fine print. The more likely scenario, though, is that Yankees fans will be entertained by home-grown Latino talent this September and beyond. And I doubt if anyone will be complaining.