(Definitely not a LOOGY. Courtesy of Getty Images)
On the surface, this move to call Manny Banuelos up to Triple-A actually makes perfect sense. It's not like Banuelos has been struggling or experiencing growing pains in Double-A this season. He's got a 3.59 ERA, 4.24 FIP (good but not great), and is still striking out almost a batter an inning. For a player his age (just turned 20 this year) he's still very much outperforming what he should rightfully be doing as a 20-year-old pitcher. The only issue he's had this season is an increased walk rate, something not uncommon for 20-year-old pitchers. It goes against the book on Banuelos, who is praised for his command, but it's not like he's completely lost the ability to throw strikes like Andrew Brackman, it's probably more just needing some fine tuning to his delivery and his approach as he faces better hitters, and that's the kind of thing a pitcher can learn at any level. So with Nova back with the Yankees for the time being, Brackman presumably being taken out on a boat to be shot soon, and David Phelps still injured, why not send the kid up?
The Yankees just held ManBanout of potential trades for pitching targets that they were interested in acquiring. They've made a big investment in him, hold him in high regard, and have watched him consistently produce at a high level at every level of the Minors so far. It's to their benefit to see how Manny's stuff plays at the next level to help them continue to formulate their plan for eventually adding him to the big league rotation, and they can also expose him to better and more experienced coaches and teammates who can help his development and improve his command and approach. And judging by the results of his start on Tuesday (2 R, 8 K in 5 IP), it looks like his stuff is going to play just fine. This isn't a panic move to try to rush him into the rotation, and there are no known discussions about ditching the kid's innings limit this year. Just the next step in the process to becoming the eventual top-tier pitcher that the organization envisions Banuelos being, in almost the same fashion that The Jesus moved up through the system.
But this little blurb from Joel Sherman's Monday piece casts a bit of a shadow on this smart surface move:
"Banuelos will make his Triple-A debut as a starter tomorrow, but the plan will be to bring him along quickly in hopes he usurps Boone Logan as the primary bullpen lefty."
Huh? Primary bullpen lefty? That's where the train starts to veer off the tracks. Teams don't make prospects untouchable in the face of possibly acquiring a top-of-the-line young starter if they're planning on turning that prospect into a LOOGY. And regardless of how ghastly the left-handed relief options are internally, the Yankees should not be entertaining the thought of converting ManBan to a reliever, even if it is just for the short term. They've been down this road before with Joba, and everybody knows how that ended. If the plan is to have Banuelos one day be at the top of the Yankee rotation, then he should be developed and used as a starter and a starter alone. Tinkering with his approach and pitching style to fit a reliever role could do more harm to his development and innings limit increases than good to the Yankee bullpen. And Boone Logan or not, with the team in the position they are in right now with regards to the playoff race, there is no need to alter Banuelos' development.
You would think the Yankees would have learned their lesson after the Joba fiasco and the continuing inconsistencies of Phil Hughes, and so far everything they have done in handling ManBan has indicated that they did. But if there really are serious plans to convert Banuelos into a temporary lefty reliever, then clearly something is still wrong with the organizational attitude when it comes to their young pitching. Calling Manny up to Triple-A to let him test the waters, learn, continue to develop as a blue-chip starting prospect, and stay on his predetermined innings limit for this year is a good move. Calling him up to Triple-A to turn him into a lefty version of '07 Joba is a horrible move, and a potentially devastating one to his future. I certainly hope the latter is just a rumor and not the team's true intentions.