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Manny Banuelos (MLB.com)


2015: (Hopefully) The Year of the Starting Pitching Prospect

In 2014 Shane Greene and Chase Whitley were able to provide solid and, in the case of Greene, sometimes spectacular starting turn. Vidal Nuno turned into Brandon McCarthy about half-way through the season.

While the starting staff was decimated by injury in 2014, the system was able to plug enough holes to keep the ship afloat. The Yankees were able to finish with a winning record, and more of the blame for missing the playoffs falls on the offense than the pitching.

While patching together the 2014 rotation was a form of triage, there are plenty of teams who have to deal with in-season injuries and have to make do with what they have. That’s why it’s so important to have depth, and having competent pitchers to call upon at the Triple A level is invaluable. The problem for the Yankees right now is they have a Major League rotation full of health questions (Sabathia’s knee, Tanaka’s elbow, Pineda’s shoulder, Nova’s return from Tommy John surgery) and a reluctance either to enter the expensive free agent market for long-term deals or sacrifice prospects they like in a trade.

With fans of the New York Yankees in a full-blown panic over the state of the current roster, in particular the starting pitchers, eyes once again turn to the minor leagues with hope that there’s help on the horizon.

If we knew all of the health concerns in the Yankees’ rotation would melt away during the season, the Yankees would be in a much different situation. They would be going to camp with David Phelps, Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Jose DePaula, Bryan Mitchell, Manny Banuelos, Chase Whitley, and probably a lower-level free agent or two competing for one spot in the rotation. That really doesn’t sound bad at all, but right now the Yankees cannot count on ANY of their starters making regular turns. The younger starting pitchers in the organization should be on alert.

Only two pitchers, Zach Nuding and Matt Tracy, who made more than ten starts at Scranton last year are still in the organization, and both of those guys might make better relievers than starters. They were also both exposed to the Rule 5 draft and not taken.

Bryan Mitchell threw over forty innings in AAA last year, has Major League time under his belt, and is a legitimate prospect with a good fastball, cutter, and potentially-dominant curveball. It could be his time, but he doesn’t have a terrific record of performance in the minors and his numbers suggest issues with command, if not control. His walk numbers are higher than you’d like to see, and his hits allowed numbers are as well.

Manny Banuelos should be better in his second year back from elbow surgery, and he was a prospect on par with Dellin Betances not that long ago. Pitching at age 24 next year, Banuelos could be an option for the rotation in the middle of the 2015 season.

Guys coming up from Trenton? Forget it. Tampa? Don’t be silly. While there are plenty of attractive options if holes appear in the bullpen, the Yankees’ system is not ready to supply the Major League rotation with options. That makes developing starting pitching the major storyline of 2015 in the minor leagues.

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Mitchell and Banuelos aren’t luxuries. They need to develop and become Major League candidates. Tracy and Nuding, neither of whom is on the 40-man roster, would really help things by showing enough competence to hold down a few weeks of Major League appearances. Minor league free agents, none of whom are signed at this point, will likely have to contribute at the Major League level.

From there, the Yankees will be hoping that not only do their starting prospects stay healthy, which is almost asking the impossible considering the attrition rate on pitchers, but they make necessary developmental progress and have some success in 2015.

Luis Severino needs to back up his breakout season. Daniel Camarena needs to continue moving up the ladder as the next Vidal Nuno. The Yankees need to see what they have in Jaron Long, who many consider a non-prospect despite a terrific 2014. Lefty Caleb Smith needs to continue improving his fastball command and breaking ball to become an effective mid-rotation starter. Ian Clarkin needs to make a full season of starts. Righty Gabe Encinas needs to get back his pre-surgery stuff and get back to harnessing it. Jose Campos needs to stay healthy, and get back to showing his considerable promise. Brady Lail needs to stay on his trajectory and push his way to Trenton. Ty Hensley needs to finally pitch a full season. Rookie Davis needs to bounce back and find secondary pitches to go with his fastball. A starter from the 2014 draft, be it Austin DeCarr, Jordan Montgomery, Justin Kamplain or someone else, needs to put together a productive first full season and jump into the discussion of top pitching prospects. A lower-level starter or two from Domingo Acevedo, Simon De La Rosa, or Juan Jimenez needs to make it to a full-season league and have success. A sleeper, someone like Nestor Cortes, Caleb Frare, or Chaz Hebert, needs to start looking like more than a sleeper. Finally, while the organization has added a number of bats in recent drafts and internationally, pitching, and probably college pitching, will need to be a complement in the next draft.

That’s a lot of needs, and a lot of ifs. But if a lot of these things happen in 2015, some of the Major League panic will turn into excitement about what’s coming on the horizon.

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