Manny Banuelos: Better Suited for Atlanta Braves’ Pen?


Manny Banuelos struggled with injuries in the 2015 season for the Atlanta Braves; thus, is he better suited coming out of the bullpen?

Manny Banuelos signed with the New York Yankees as an international free agent at the age of 17. Through Banuelos’ first three seasons, he performed well in the Yankees’ farm system, never posting an ERA above 3.60. During that stretch (2008-2010), Banuelos climbed from the Gulf Coast League to Double-A before his 20th birthday. In the spring of 2011, Manny Banuelos seemed destined to be a key figure in the New York Yankees rotation for years to come.

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However, Manny Banuelos did not make the big-league roster out of Spring Training, and he had a mediocre 2011 season, posting a 3.75 ERA and a FIP in the low-fours. Despite his struggles in 2011, Banuelos looked poised to make his big-league debut in 2012; however, he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Thus, Banuelos missed most of the 2012 season and all of the 2013 season, essentially resetting the progress he made to reach Triple-A.

Manny Banuelos returned to action in the 2014 season, splitting time between three leagues, and ultimately, he finished the season back at the Triple-A level. However, his MLB debut eluded him for yet another season. Following the 2014 season, the New York Yankees needed bullpen arms to lead up to their lethal one-two punch of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Therefore, the trade between the Yankees and Braves transpired. The Braves sent David Carpenter (RHP) and Chasen Shreve (LHP) for the Yankees’ once highly-touted pitcher Manny Banuelos. 

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In 2015, outside of one start for the GCL Braves, Manny Banuelos made sixteen starts for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, posting a solid 2.23 ERA with an average 3.46 FIP. Banuelos produced a strikeout rate (K/9) of 7.33 but a disappointing walk rate (BB/9) of 4.25 in those 16 starts. One of Banuelos’ more impressive stats, he registered a 0.21 home run rate (HR/9), showing his capabilities of keeping the baseball in the ballpark.

Impressed by his starts at Triple-A, the Atlanta Braves decided to promote Manny Banuelos in July. The Braves scheduled Banuelos to take on the Nationals in his first career start (at the age of 24). Banuelos pitched well in his MLB debut, registering 5.2 innings pitched of scoreless ball, while striking out seven in the process. However, an injury forced Banuelos to leave the game early, adding to Banuelos’ injury concerns. The Braves determined that Banuelos left his first start due to cramping and dehydration.

The Atlanta Braves avoided a scare as Banuelos injury was not considered serious, and he made his next scheduled start of the season on July 7th. After his July 7th start, Banuelos made three more appearances (two starts and one relief) before the injury bug bit him again. This time his injury was more serious. The Braves placed Banuelos on the 15-day DL with elbow inflammation; however, the Braves later transferred him to the 60-day DL due to bone spurs in his pitching elbow.

While many thought Manny Banuelos’ season may very well be over, he made two more starts in September before being shut down for the remainder of the 2015 season. Banuelos and the Braves opted for him to undergo surgery to remove the bone spurs in his pitching elbow. The bone spur surgery ended Banuelos’ injury-riddled season, allowing him to make only six starts (seven appearances) on the season. Thus, raising the question, is Banuelos better suited to pitch out of the bullpen?

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The Braves need an effective lefty out of the bullpen, and Banuelos possesses four above-average offerings (fastball, curveball, cutter, and change-up). John Hart wants to focus on improving the bullpen this offseason; however, some of his answers may lie in-house. Banuelos’ value likely takes a hit if the Braves decide to transition him from a starter to a reliever, but value is a moot point if he is injured. By coming out of the bullpen, the Braves can limit Manny Banuelos’ innings, likely resulting in less injuries. ranks Manny Banuelos as the Atlanta Braves’ fifth-best prospect, and he will enter the 2016 season with his rookie eligibility still intact. The main concern with Banuelos is not his abilities; it is his longevity. Until he proves he can shoulder an MLB workload, the Braves might find him to be more effective out of the bullpen. The Braves have a plethora of young arms capable of breaking Spring Training in the starting rotation, but by moving Banuelos to the pen, the Braves kill two birds with one stone.

Next: Max Fried: Atlanta Braves' Future Ace?

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