Throughout the course of a season, a General Manager tends to make dozens of moves. Most of them never merit a headline on MLBTR. In fact, Billy Eppler just made one such move by acquiring LHP Manny Banuelos. If the name brings a bell, it’s because Banuelos is a former consensus Top 50 prospect in all of baseball.
Banuelos was one-third of “The Killer B’s”, a former trio of promising Yankees prospects. You see, the thing about Yankees and Red Sox prospects is, they tend to get a TON of hype and exposure. The national media is all over them and if any of them show any glimpses of a promising future in the major leagues, it is reported ad nauseum and thus hype is generated. This isn’t entirely fair to the prospects themselves, but it also takes away from the legitimacy of top prospect sites. The Killer B’s from the Yankees were Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. All three were hyped as future front of the rotation starters and all-stars. Fast forward to today, and we know that Brackman is out of baseball entirely after a poor showing in the upper minors, Betances couldn’t hack it as a starter but has turned into a rather dominant bullpen entity and Banuelos has had his career derailed by injuries. In the same breath, if a pitcher like Nate Smith were part of the Yankee system, he’s likely be a borderline Top 100 prospect despite the #4/5 starter upside. But since he’s an Angels prospect, he’s largely ignored.
Anyway, back to Banuelos. This might actually turn into a savvy move made by Eppler who should know Banuelos as good as anybody based off his time as the assistant GM in New York. Banuelos never posted an ERA over 2.67 until he was a 19 year old in AA. That’s right, 19 years old in AA. The average age of a ball player in AA – 24 years old, basically the same age as Mike Trout this year, which is crazy in an of itself. And Manny posted an ERA of 3.52 across three starts, still not bad at all. He returned to AA and AAA the following season before going under the knife in 2012 and missing the remainder of that season and 2013 as well. Truly devastating for his career. Banuelos returned to the mound in 2014 as a 23 year old, but despite the velocity being there, Banuelos simply couldn’t control his pitches and the numbers showed. It was at this point that the Yankees cut bait and sent him to Atlanta, who was in the process of acquiring every pitching prospect ever at the time (Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis – ahem). Manny returned with a vengeance as a member of the Braves in 2015, pitching to a 2.62 ERA in AAA before being promoted. His promotion to the major leagues didn’t go quite as planned, mostly due to his inability to command his pitches, regardless of their quality. After a minor procedure to remove bone spurs from his left elbow, Banuelos has again struggled to regain his feel for his pitches and was thus, let go by the Braves and now picked up by the Angels.
At just 25 years old, Banuelos seems like he’s gone through a lot so far in his career, and he really has. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. But what’s never been questionable is the talent. Manny’s fastball is consistent at 92-93 mph, about 3-4 mph faster than the average major league left-hander. Banuelos uses his curve ball as an out-pitch and when he keeps it in the zone, it can be devastating. There’s also a slider that he rarely uses and a change up that has tons of late life but Banuelos has had a hard time commanding since his Tommy John surgery a couple years back. Essentially, Banuelos’ biggest obstacle toward success has been repeating his mechanics, refining his feel for his pitches and simply throwing strikes. If Banuelos throws strikes, he’s an excellent pitcher. If Banuelos throws strikes, he has mid-rotation upside. If Banuelos throws strikes, the Angels just might have a very bright future.
Angels coaches, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Get this kid to throw strikes and you might save 2017 and a young kid’s career while you’re at it.