I’m not going to apologize for being all about pitchers. If you have been around the Atlanta Braves at all – as a reporter or as a fan – you know how important pitching has been in the history of the franchise.
So I’m probably more excited than the normal person about the Braves little trade with the Yankees on Thursday. It will fly under the radar as a minor move. One team gets two bullpen arms for a former top prospect who still has a lot to prove.
And considering the Braves situation, it’s a perfect trade.
Manny Banuelos (pronounced bahn-you-WAY-los) is a used-to-be top pitching prospect. If you had talked trade with the Yankees three or four years ago, his name would have been off limits. He was untouchable. The Yankees rarely made prospects untouchable, but he was.
Baseball America rated him as the Yankees’ sixth-best prospect in 2010, then their fourth-best prospect in 2011, the second-best in 2012 and he fell to the eighth-best in 2013. The fall was not for anything he did wrong. Banuelos just got hurt, just like all pitchers seem to do at some point.
He had Tommy John surgery in October 2012. Then he missed all of 2013. He slowly came back in 2014 and pitched in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. The numbers were okay, not great. Just okay. But the stuff came back, as Banuelos’ velocity was back in the 94 mph range and his changeup showed signs of being a dangerous pitch again.
This is a lefty pitcher who will be 24 years old on March 13. If he regains his stuff and stays healthy, there’s little reason to believe Banuelos can’t return to a top prospect.
And remember who is in the Braves front office now – Gordon Blakeley, who was in the Yankees front office when Banuelos was signed in 2008 out of Mexico and who watched Banuelos develop into one of the top prospects in baseball before his injury.
If Blakeley believes Banuelos can come back – and you know they wouldn’t have made the trade without a glowing recommendation from him – then you have to like the chances.
The Braves need high impact arms – pitchers that can make a huge difference. That’s why they wanted Arodys Vizcaino from the Cubs. That’s why they wanted Tyrell Jenkins from the Cardinals. That’s why they wanted Max Fried from the Padres. And when they thought the Yankees could use some of their relievers, that’s why they wanted Manny Banuelos.
Banuelos should go to camp and compete for the fifth starter’s job. The Braves will likely bring in a veteran to compete for the job, and Ryan Vogelsong is a name that we should all keep in mind. But don’t be shocked if Banuelos gets the gig with a solid spring training. The Braves scouts believe he is healthy and that his stuff is almost back to normal.
Some may scoff at the Braves getting yet another pitcher that has had Tommy John surgery. But maybe it’s better to get pitchers that have already had it, like they did when they drafted Alex Wood a few years ago. Max Fried has had it, and he’ll take the entire 2015 season recovering. Banuelos should be finished with his recovery and should be back on track.
These guys are potentially high-impact pitchers. Sure, it’s all about potential. But remember, the Braves farm system was in shambles entering this offseason. They will need two solid years of trading for other players, two solid drafts and two international signing periods to get the system back in working order.
The Braves had an historic run of success for many years, and it was mainly due to the options that were in place for the front office. The more prospects in the system, the more flexibility and leverage the front office had when making moves. It’s like the old saying, “the more stuff you throw up against the wall, the more that might stick.”
And it all starts with pitchers. That’s why the draft in June will likely be pitching-heavy. Sure, the Braves need position prospects. But look at it this way. The Braves are set for at least the next four years at catcher (Christian Bethancourt), first base (Freddie Freeman), second base (Jose Peraza), shortstop (Andrelton Simmons) and right field (Nick Markakis). That’s five of the eight positions on the field.
There is no clear-cut long-term solution at third base, left field or center field. Sure, third baseman Chris Johnson is under contract through 2017 with an option for 2018. Evan Gattis, penciled in for left field right now, is under control through 2018. Center fielder B.J. Upton is under contract through 2017. But the Braves would trade all three of these players if they could, and won’t stop trying.
They want to do that even without replacements in place. One reason is they want more pitching. They are trying to trade Gattis, with pitching as the key to any deal. They would take some marginal arms for Johnson, just to get his money off the books. And Upton? Well, you know they’d take a bag of balls in return if a team would take him, but don’t count on it.
The plan is in place for this team. They will pursue more trades like they made Thursday. They want more potential high-impact arms. Banuelos is just that. He might never recover his status as a top prospect, but considering his stuff is showing signs of returning, it’s well worth the risk of giving up two relievers.
With all due respect to Carpenter and Shreve, who cares. Carpenter was a decent reliever, but you can find them on the free agent market and the Braves have already brought in Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli to be the main setup men for Craig Kimbrel. Carpenter was going to be pushed down the list anyway.
Shreve is a good prospect, and I thought he could be the Braves top lefty reliever this season. Luis Avilan is someone the Braves are trying to trade. We all know James Russell is not great against lefty hitters. So Shreve could have become a valuable reliever.
But again, you’re talking about trading two relievers for a potential starting pitcher. Who wouldn’t do that, especially when the relievers are very replaceable.
Banuelos may need time in Triple-A to start off, or to show he is fully healthy. But don’t be shocked if he goes to spring training and wins the fifth starter’s job. If his stuff is back, then this kid could be on a mission. And remember, even though he’s been on the radar as a top prospect for many years, at 24 he would still be a rookie the first time he steps onto the field as a major league starting pitcher. So the Braves would have him for six years.
What did the Braves want for Jason Heyward? What did they want for Justin Upton? What do they want and need to build this franchise back to where it once was? Young, controllable high-impact pitchers.
That’s why Thursday’s trade was a great one for the Braves. It won’t be the last this month, and that’s only going to make this team better – both in 2015 and, yes, in 2017 when the Braves will be back.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Braves make another solid move
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