- New York Yankees relief pitcher Manny Banuelos has an opportunity to be the organization’s most heartwarming story of the season
- The 31-year-old was one of the Bronx Bomber’s top prospects in the early 2010s before injuries intervened
- After a long road across various levels of professional baseball, Banuelos is back wearing the Yankees’ pinstripes
A large chunk of New York Yankees fans might not have noticed when veteran left-hander Manny Banuelos took the mound in the sixth inning of a spring training game. Considering his status as a non-roster invitee, they may not have even cared.
Nearly a decade ago, they absolutely would have been stoked to see Banuelos take the mound, even if it was only in a spring training outing.
In the early 2010s, the Mexican-born lefty represented hope for the next generation of Yankees prospects. Now, the 31-year-old has an opportunity to already cement himself as the team’s best story of the 2022 campaign.
Manny Banuelos took the long road back to rejoin the New York Yankees
Before there were Aaron Judge and the Baby Bombers, there were Banuelos and the Killer B’s.
In the years after the much-heralded trio of Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes all reached the majors in 2007, the Yankees turned their attention to another pitching trio. Banuelos, who signed with the Yankees as a teenager in 2008, joined the Bronx-raised Dellin Betances and former South Carolina standout Andrew Brackman as prospects to closely monitor. Despite only standing 5-foot-11 and weighing roughly 160 pounds early in his minors career, Banuelos skyrocketed through the Yankees’ farm system in large part because of an electric fastball that occasionally touched the high 90s.
Betances, who earned four All-Star nods with the Yankees from 2014-17, is the only one who panned out. Brackman battled injuries and pitched in three games late in the 2011 season, although the team cut him loose following the season. Elbow injuries limited Banuelos’ development, and the Yankees traded him to the Atlanta Braves for two relievers during the 2014-15 offseason.
Over the next seven years, Banuelos pitched for five MLB organizations, the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s Fubon Guardians, and the Mexican League’s Sultanes de Monterrey. His most recent MLB action came in 2019 when he pitched to a 3-4 record and a 6.93 ERA in 16 games (eight starts) for the Chicago White Sox.
Now, Banuelos is back wearing the pinstripes — and wearing Betances’ former No. 68 to boot. The veteran left-hander pitched a perfect inning in an 8-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers on March 20 and even struck out Tigers infielder Will Castro, who played in 125 games last year.
Legendary closer Mariano Rivera had high hopes for Banuelos at one point
Prospects come and go in Major League Baseball, and it can often be hard to truly understand how high a player’s ceiling is until they’re in the big leagues.
Legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera saw Banuelos’ potential almost from the getgo.
In the spring of 2011, the Yankees invited the 19-year-old Banuelos to spring training as a non-roster invitee. He began the preseason with five scoreless innings and impressed to the point where Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had to make it clear he wouldn’t open the regular season with the big club.
In an interview with ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand that spring, Rivera praised “Little Manny” and offered extensive praise for the young prospect.
“I like everything about him. The makeup and how he keeps his composure. I notice situations and how you react in situations. Where you make your pitches in tough situations, where you spot your pitches, he has the ability to do that.”Mariano Rivera
Marchand wrote that Banuelos “smiled sheepishly” when informed of Rivera’s comments.
Baseball America ranked Banuelos as the sport’s 41st-best prospect ahead of the 2011 season. Although he jumped spots before the 2012 season began, he suffered an elbow injury early in the campaign and didn’t return to the mound until 2014.
Banuelos is a great story even if he doesn’t pitch for the Yankees in the regular season
The reality is that Banuelos likely won’t make the Yankees’ 26-man roster regardless of how well he pitches this spring. He’ll almost certainly open the season at Triple-A, where he’ll pitch while waiting for an eventual injury or trade at the big-league level.
Such a reality might not sound ideal for many, but it’d be an amazing story of triumph and poetry for Banuelos.
As of now, there remains a possibility that he’ll finally wear the pinstripes for a regular-season game. Nearly 15 years after first joining the Bronx Bombers, Banuelos could have an opportunity to take the mound at a mostly-crowded Yankee Stadium in the coming months.
All of those images will be incredible sights if they come to fruition, especially if Banuelos spots his pitches and keeps his composure the way he did as a teenager. If he does what once caught Rivera’s eye, don’t be surprised to see him finally become a fan favorite in the process.