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The Yankees push a lot of talented young pitchers through their Latin American development program. Every year, 2-3 guys pop up with real potential to become top-flight prospects. Some flame out quickly, while some climb the ladder. I remember pimping the likes of Angel Reyes, Francisco Castillo and Ferdin Tejada. Seriously, I thought that Ferdin Tejada was the next big thing. A lot of those guys have come and gone from the Yankee development program, but only two have retained their prospect status in to the high minor leagues – Ivan Nova and Wilkins De La Rosa. They’re keeping the Yankee Latin American pitching team from the shutout.

The two best hopes for the Latin American team to follow up Nova and De La Rosa are Jose Ramirez and Manuel Banuelos. While being roughly the same age, they could not be more different pitching prospects. They offer two interesting case studies to help evaluate pitching prospects in the very low minors.

Jose Ramirez is a hard (94-95 mph) throwing right-handed pitcher. He’s 6’1″, very lean, and just turned 20. Ramirez had a sterling rookie league debut last year, pitching 61 innings in 11 game s (which is very high for his age and level), with 7.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. He’s got a changeup, but not much of a breaking pitch, which explains the relatively low strikeout rate for a talented flamethrower in the GCL. His average Yankee prospect list rating was #20. I declined to rate Ramirez, as I pretty commonly do with unknown Latin American players (I waited a year on Montero, De Leon, Sanchez, etc), but he will probably make the midseason list in the top-15.

Manny Banuelos has a little more experience. He pitched a full season of 109 innings at low-A ball last year, and is a year younger than Ramirez. His rate stats are better too – 8.7 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. Banuelos is a lefty with solid enough stuff – a fastball topping out at about 90 and average secondary pitches. He’s undersized at 5’10″. Banuelos draws huge praise for poise, character, and command on the mound. His average Yankee prospect list rating was #4. I rated him #9.

Both have their set of pros and cons. Ramirez has unquestionable stuff and a strong enough pitchers body, but no breaking pitch yet (though he’s striking out more players this year – I’m willing to bet that’s the curveball coming along), and he hasn’t pitched a full season yet. Banuelos has pitched a full season, has been given praise for the mental stuff. On the other hand, you’d like to see a guy have a better than average stuff on either the fastball or secondary side of things, and his size is a huge concern. There aren’t a lot of 5’10″ MLB starters out there.

I think that we overrate guys like Banuelos a little bit. He’s definitely talented, and I meant it when I ranked it #9 in the Yankee farm system. But certain prospect lists had him as high as #2, ahead of more established guys like Austine Romine and Zach McAllister. This is insane – Banuelos has some serious flaws that he has yet to fully prove he can overcome. He’s had a lot of success for a young player, but he’s still at a low level. There is nothing in his resume right now to suggest that he has the poise to become a “plus craftiness” type player, even as a lefty. If he were 21 and not 19, I doubt that Banuelos would be on our radar screens. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad prospect, but he doesn’t have the kind of ceiling to justify an A-ball top-5 prospect ranking.

If Jose Ramirez has the exact same stat line in his full-season debut as Banuelos, I think that he may legitimately deserve a top-5 prospect rating. Unlike Banuelos, there aren’t any real questions about Ramirez’s talent. We know he can throw a great fastball and a good enough changeup. He’s got time for the breaking pitch. He’s got a fairly typical starting pitcher’s body, and doesn’t have any glaring injury or mental red flags. The knock against him is that he hasn’t had that Banuelos-like full season debut yet. Performance is his question mark, and a pretty big one. Most guys don’t make it through a full season. But unlike Banuelos, Ramirez has some serious ceiling. Anyone who throws that hard does.

So, I think my point is: the lower a player is in the minors, the less we should have patience for his flaws. There is a lot to like about Manuel Banuelos, but there is also a lot not to like. We should demand more perfection out of our young phenoms, because there is so much that can go wrong as they climb the ladder.

7 Responses to “Comparing Young Pitchers – Jose Ramirez and Manuel Banuelos”

  1. Excellent post. Reminds me of an old saying in the business: “You can’t teach a fastball.”

    BTW, the Latin American pipeline has also yielded some talent the team has traded, most recently Viszcaino in the Lopez deal this winter.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    I didn’t include Vizcaino for obvious reasons, but I think he’s a real interesting case. I said that I’d give Ramirez a very high rating if he put up Banuelos’s numbers over a full season. Vizcaino only did it in short season ball because of his age, but he basically did that, and shot up league-wide prospect lists. They have similarly awesome stuff. A 100+ inning season of great pitching out of Ramirez puts him in probably a better boat than Vizcaino, meaning we’d have another top-100 prospect.

    I also haven’t yet mentioned Jairo Heredia, but he’s pretty damn good too.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  2. Great post EJ…
    I would think grading pitchers is one of the hardest things to do. I mean; one guy has a FB around 95+ but, nothing to go with it. Another guy has a FB at 90+/- but also a good change and so so curve. Which is the better pitcher? One has to look at a lot more then what they throw and more on the make-up and command of each pitcher, and even more. I think we all like the hard thrower more but, some guys (like IPK) can, and do, make it on C&C and knowing how to pitch.
    Damn hard to tell what they will be like four or five years down the road. Guys like Bobby Shantz and Eddie Lopat, both of them on the small side and soft throwers wouldn’t have a chance in to-days minor leagues…even Whitey Ford was only 5’10″.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    We break the tie with numbers :)

    We can always find guys who succeeded without the normal stuff you look for. Wayne Gretzky was 5’10″ and slight. But those players succeeded in spite of their size, not because of it. Its a big knock against a prospect in the low minors. I’m less concerned about a player’s flaws as they climb the ladder closer to the majors. If Banuelos is still chugging along with a 3.5 K/BB ratio at Triple-A, I’ll stop complaining about his size.  (Quote)

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  3. Both players size make me think their eventual home will be in the bullpen, but don’t dismiss Banuelos just yet. Lefties with great makeup and pitchability can outperform as Yankees (see Andy Pettitte) and even smallish Lefties can have great careers. The three greatest Lefthanders in Yankee history are Whitey Ford (5’10″ 178 lbs) Ron Guidry (5’11″ 160 lbs) and Lefty Gomez (6’2″ 163 lbs). I know they were all from other eras, but Yankee Stadium has a history of being very kind to good lefty pitchers, for obvious reasons.  (Quote)

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  4. lo unico es que yo conosco a mi primo y el tiene futuro para llegar lejos desde nino se le miro gran talento para el base ball.  (Quote)

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  5. Hey all,

    I wrote a write-up about Jose Ramirez this evening. He’s truly blown me away in every game I’ve seen. I don’t know if you could use it on the site, but here’s the link: http://bloggingaboutbaseball.com/2010/05/01/know-your-prospects-jose-ramirez-rhp-new-york-yankees/
    It includes video, which if you want some more, I have more of.

    Enjoy!
    Dylan Sharek
    Blogging About Baseball  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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