Considered by most to the unanimous top pitching prospect within the New York Yankees organization, big things were expected from Manny Banuelos this season as he continued to climb through the minor leagues. The 21 year old left-hander was expected to start with the team’s Triple-A Scranton affiliate with the possibility of a late season start in the Majors Leagues a realistic proposition. Things didn’t quite go as planned for either side and it would now seem as though the prognosis isn’t getting any better.
Banuelos made just 6 starts on the 2012 season, totaling 24.0 innings. He finished 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA and 8.2 K/9, but struggled with command and with runners on base. By mid-May the team had shut him down with what was described at the time as elbow soreness. The team conducted their usual array of examinations (MRI, etc.) but found no structural damage. So Banuelos was simply shut down for a few weeks until the arm felt better. By late-June he was back on a mound, throwing bullpen sessions at the team’s minor league training complex in Tampa. A lack of comfort in throwing his curveball and a nagging back issue led the Yankees to shut Banuelos down for the season on August 6th. The organization termed the injury at the time as a simple bone bruise and expressed an expectation that Banuelos would pitch in winter ball and join the team in Spring Training.
Late Tuesday afternoon a new announcement was made with regards to Banuelos, simply that he would be undergoing Tommy John Surgery on Thursday and will miss the entire 2013 season.
Now the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, who may have been MLB-ready next season, will have missed two full years of development and his prospect status will likely take a hit. Upon returning for the 2014 season Banuelos will still only be on the verge of his 24th birthday, so all is certainly not lost for the young left-hander from Mexico. But for New York, it’s a big blow for an organization hoping to infuse homegrown talent into an aging roster so that they can continue to ratchet payroll back under the luxury tax threshold. The team’s disappointment was apparent when Joe Girardi was asked about the announcement prior to Tuesday night’s game (per Mark Feinsand):
It’s not what you want to see out of your young players that you think have a bright future for you, but a lot of guys have had setbacks and went on to have great careers. He has an opportunity to heal up, get strong and be a factor after that. I’m sure it’s frustrating for him and it’s frustrating for us, but you have to make the most of it.
While you never wish that a player on an opposing team succumbs to injury (particularly when this writer happens to be more of a Yankees fan than a Sox one), losing Banuelos could benefit Boston simply based on the fact that the Sox won’t have to face him next season. Banuelos was described as “having the potential to be the Yankees best homegrown pitcher since Andy Pettitte” by Baseball America in their 2012 Prospect Handbook before the start of the 2012 season. They also project him to be a possible #2 starter once he reaches the Major Leagues. Had he remained healthy and continued to refine his pitches, it is entirely possible that he could have been a viable option for the Yankees next Spring as they assemble their rotation. Now those discussions will have to be pushed back at least another year. Boston’s had its fair share of problems facing the Yankee pitchers in the past, so delaying the addition of a second talented lefty to the New York rotation can’t be a bad thing for the Sox.