Author’s Note: This was written several months before all the recently published big media reports from the Arizona Fall League of how good a pitcher Manuel Banuelos is.
I am taking a tour of Florida for a little time to watch the Florida State League High A Tampa Yankees.
The first night I saw Adam Warren and Graham Stoneburner create a show with both pitching well against the Brevard County Manatees. It was the first time seeing Warren and second time seeing Stoneburner throw, although the first time was at Low A Charleston.
Warren was good, keeping everything down in the zone. He moves the ball in and out very well, pin points every pitch and was effective over seven innings in getting swings and misses on all of his pitches. This included striking out former major leaguer and former top Milwaukee Brewers catching prospect Angel Salome three times.
I will see Warren again Saturday night in Tampa.
Stoneburner was his usual self, getting a bunch of strikeouts and ground balls off his hard fastball and sharp biting slider. He only threw four innings, allowing four hits, four runs, three of which were earned. He had one bad inning, helped along by another bad Bradley Suttle fielding play.
Both guys are not afraid to come inside, and used their low-to- mid 90s fastballs to bust hitters in on the hands. Warren is very adept at breaking bats with a nice running action on his two seamer.
Due to a rain out the prior day, these games were only seven inning tilts. The Yankee organization, ever-present concerning young pitchers and innings limits, lifted Stoneburner after four. The Yankees supposedly have an innings limit of around 130-140 this year for Stoneburner (he has 85 thus far), basically his first professional season.
But the main attraction for me in traveling the 2 1/2 hours to Brevard County was to see Manuel Banuelos, a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher signed from the Mexican League.
Banuelos is listed as 5’10” but he is no bigger than me, and I am only 5″9.” However, he is thick in the legs, and appears to weight more than his listed weight of 155 lbs.
But what Man-Ban lacks in height, he makes up with repertoire, pitch command and poise. And not necessarily ranked in that order.
Watching him warm up I saw a very smooth and easy delivery. He does not swing back with a high PAS elbow, putting less stress on his elbow and shoulder. His front foot plants in the same spot every time, slightly closed but in a direct line to home plate, good signs towards a pitcher repeating his delivery pitch after pitch and having excellent control.
And Banuelos does repeat his easy delivery. He locates all three of his pitches where he wants most of the time. If he misses with a pitch, he misses down, especially with his dynamite 12-6/11-7 curve ball.
And that curve ball is just one of three out pitches Banuelos displayed Tuesday night. He threw that pitch inside and outside, getting called strikes on some, weakly hit ground balls on a few and swinging strikes on many.
Banuelos started that game by allowing three straight hard-hit singles, and his first earned run in two FSL starts. All three hits were on pitches over the plate, and two of the batters fought off some tough pitches prior to getting their knocks.
But Manny settled down, striking out the next three hitters (two looking) on a called fastball away, swinging change-up away and called inside curve to a right-handed hitter. All three hitters were set up beautifully, giving credit to veteran backstop Myron Leslie.
But Banuelos threw the pitches to the right spots when he needed to, and he dominated the Brevard County lineup after those first three hitters.
While the curve ball is really good (75-76 MPH all night), and the fastball is solid (92-93 MPH all night, touching 94 twice) with a slight tailing action to right-handed hitters, it is Banuelos’ change up which is going to get him through the system in a hurry.
The change was thrown consistently in the 80-82 MPH range with precise location. He generated lots of swing and misses all night on this pitch, painting the outside corner with it at will.
This pitch was very Johan Santana-like.
Banuelos was not afraid to throw his off-speed pitches in favorable hitters counts, and as the game moved along it was very unpredictable in what he would throw. He threw many back-to-back change ups which shows Banuelos is confident in his pitches. He was not afraid to throw to the corners, possibly put on man on via a walk, because he has the pitch action to generate strikeouts or get a quick double play ground ball.
He showed tremendous confidence in throwing strikes when behind in the count, seemingly not caring as he continued to throw his off speed stuff at anytime. And when a right-handed hitter began to lean out over the plate, he busted them inside with a curve or 93 MPH fastball.
After one swing and a miss on a pinpoint change-up, I said out loud “that was really unfair.”
One Tampa Yankees hurler who was seated behind the back stop charting pitches said that Banuelos is “unreal” in that he has three out pitches and command of all three. This player also said, “I have not seen anything like him so far in pro ball.”
What I did not like about Banuelos was his pick off move to first base. It is predictable and easy to recognize. There were three successful stolen bases (on three attempt) off him.
But a pickoff move, especially to a lefty, is a very teachable craft.
What is not coachable is Banuelos ability to throw three out pitches with pinpoint control.
He is a keeper and one to keep an eye on for rapid advancement in the Yankee system and I can see Banuelos moving into the Bronx rotation by late 2012.