Yankees vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman disagreed this week with a recent report that left-handed pitching prospect Manny Banuelos has seen a fairly significant velocity dip in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, with his fastball stuck in the low 90s.
“That’s not true,” Newman said.
After seeing Banuelos pitch last Wednesday — incidentally, his last game before going on the disabled list with a blister problem — Keith Law reported that Banuelos never got his fastball higher than 92 mph (granted, with an above-average-to-plus changeup). I have no reason to doubt Law’s readings last week, but Newman said the Yankees have Banuelos “pitching at 92 and touching 94.” Newman said he couldn’t remember any 95s — a number Banuelos used to reach — but Newman doesn’t consider the velocity or arm strength to be an issue right now.
“He’s just about back (to what he was pre-surgery),” Newman said.
The latest blister setback is not considered a significant problem for Baneulos. His elbow has held up after surgery, though the Yankees have limited his workload to no more than three innings in each of his outings. Banuelos has a 1.10 WHIP and Double-A batters are hitting .198 against him.
“Velocity is good,” Newman said. “Breaking ball is improving as he gets more comfortable. … His stuff is back, now he needs to command it better.”
Several other minor league notes from Newman:
ON THE MOVE
• Over the weekend, the Yankees made the unusual move of promoting RHP Bryan Mitchell to Triple-A despite having underwhelming Double-A numbers (1.50 WHIP, 5.44 ERA, had been particularly bad recently). “We wanted to give him a little change of scenery,” Newman said. “We wanted him to see a different level. I don’t know what it’s going to do for him.” The Yankees made a similar move with Mitchell last year, and he actually responded quite well. He was scheduled to make his second Triple-A start tonight, but that was before last night’s rain out. “I don’t know how long he’s going to stay there,” Newman said.
• Opposite move with RHP Mark Montgomery, who was demoted from Triple-A to Double-A earlier this month (only to be immediately placed on the disabled list because he’d been hit in the shin). “We got crowded there (in Triple-A),” Newman said. “We ran out of spots, so we’re going to try to make the most out of it. … It had to happen to somebody. We’re working on a few things, and I hope he’s back there shortly.” Newman said Montgomery is currently down in Tampa doing arm exercises. His Triple-A numbers really aren’t bad, but he does seem to have fallen behind some other bullpen prospects (that’s just my own observation and speculation, not something Newman said to me).
• LHP Nik Turley is ready to come off the disabled list and could start in tonight’s Triple-A doubleheader. Turley was shut down in spring training because of an arm issue and he made a rookie ball start over the weekend. Turley was solid in Double-A last year and had a 40-man spot until the spring injury led the Yankees to take him off the roster. The door is wide open for someone to perform well out of the Triple-A rotation. “If (Turley) throws strikes, he’s fine,” Newman said. “Gets a lot of swing and misses with his fastball, curveball and changeup.”
• Doesn’t sound like he’s particularly close to being on the big league radar, but RHP Andrew Bailey is throwing bullpens in Tampa. Newman said he’s throwing fastballs and changeups off a mound. The Yankees signed the former big league closer to a minor league deal during spring training. Coming back from shoulder surgery, he could be a big league option much later in the year.
• Bumped up from Charleston to Tampa, top pitching prospect RHP Luis Severino struck out eight in his High-A debut, and yesterday he went six hitless innings with six strikeouts and a walk (not at all unusual for young minor leaguers to be pulled during a no-hitter; happened a few times to Phil Hughes when he was coming up). RF Aaron Judge has also been bumped up to Tampa and so far has two triples and as many walks as strikeouts through seven games at High-A.
• One player not on the move is RHP Ty Hensley. The former first-round pick finally got in a rookie-ball game over the weekend, but Newman said the Yankees are in no rush to move up the ladder. “He hasn’t pitched,” Newman said. The Yankees just need to get Hensley innings after injuries have robbed him of all but 12 professional innings before this season.
• Scranton/Wilkes-Barre got SS Dean Anna and RHP Diego Moreno off the disabled list this week, but it will be a while longer before OF Ramon Flores returns from his ankle injury. “He’s a ways away,” Newman said. Flores is still not doing anything on that ankle. He’ll obviously have to get to the point that he can workout on the ankle before he begin real baseball activities.
• RHP Branden Pinder and OF Adonis Garcia are a little closer to rejoining Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Pinder hurt his groin and hasn’t pitched since May 25, but Newman said the big reliever will start throwing in “a couple of days” and could be back in the Triple-A bullpen in 10 days to two weeks. Garcia is out with a hamstring injury and has the same time table, 10 days to two weeks.
• Last year’s top draft pick, 3B Eric Jagielo, is hitting at the Yankees minor league complex and needs about 10 more days to finish off his rehab from an oblique injury. Should be back in the High-A lineup soon. The Yankees pushed him to Tampa in his first full season of pro ball, and Jagielo has responded by slugging .500 through 156 at-bats. Quite a few strikeouts, but his numbers were getting better in the weeks before the injury.
• Emerging as perhaps the top shortstop prospect in the system, Charleston SS Abiatal Avelino is working his way back from a quad injury. He’s on a time table pretty similar to Garcia and Jagielo, roughly 10 days to two weeks from rejoining the Charleston lineup. “Good player,” Newman said. “He can play the position.”
• One of the early season surprises, Charleston 1B Mike Ford, returned this weekend from a hamstring injury
• The latest problem for oft-injured 2B Angelo Gumbs is a left shoulder injury that’s kept him out of the Tampa lineup for a little more than a month. He’s been playing in rookie ball for a few days now and Newman said it’s just a matter of getting a few at-bats before he’s activated.
ODDS AND ENDS
• I asked Newman if he would give any details or comment on the recent discipline issued to C Gary Sanchez — who was benched by Trenton manager Tony Franklin earlier this month — but Newman wouldn’t say anything about it. My own observation: Sanchez is a pretty obvious trade chip for the Yankees right now, and something had to be pretty bad for the Yankees to publicly discipline him at a time like this. Not a great time to bring up character issues for a guy like that. For what it’s worth, Sanchez has hit pretty well since getting back in the lineup.
• Newman said he expects the top picks from this year’s draft — beginning with LHP Jacob Lindgren — to make their debuts next week. As for where they’ll be assigned, some are still being determined, the others: “We haven’t even told them yet,” Newman said.
• After a breakout year in Double-A, RHP Shane Greene is off to a slow start in first taste of Triple-A. Newman points out that Greene looked great in spring training, then had that weird start to the season when he bounced between different levels and roles. “It made it a little bit difficult for him,” Newman said. “But I think he’s been better lately. He’s got really good stuff, as everybody knows. … The biggest deal with him is, he’s just got to get back into a rhythm.”
• Back to RHP Mark Montgomery for a bit: I’ve heard in the past that Montgomery leans on his slider too much and that might be stalling his advancement, but Newman dismissed the idea. “He’s got a really good slider, so he uses his slider a lot,” Newman said. “That’s not an issue.”
• 1B/C Pete O’Brien is one of the system’s biggest success stories so far this season. His power has been outrageous — two homers Monday gave him 25 home runs already — but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk much and his batting average and on-base percentage have really suffered since he got to Double-A. Is he going to make enough contact for that raw power to play in the upper levels? “It’s played so far,” Newman said. After clicking through the Yankees internal computer system — the Yankees have a ton of prospect information in a database — Newman said that the Yankees show O’Brien’s swing-and-miss rates actually improving. Newman said the miss rate against fastballs is already pretty good, and the miss rate against breaking balls is getting better.
Associated Press photos