Top Yankees Pitching Prospects Face New Obstacles

NEW YORK—Despite reaching Triple-A last August and showing strikeout stuff, pitching phenoms Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos enter spring training this year further away from the big leagues than they were last spring.

That's because New York enhanced its rotation with a flurry of mid-January activity. First they added Michael Pineda in a trade with the Mariners that cost catcher Jesus Montero and righthander Hector Noesi, a pair of 2011 rookies. The Yankees also signed free agent Hiroki Kuroda away from the Dodgers.

The 23-year-old Pineda ranked second among American League starters with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings as a rookie last season—and made the all-star team—so he's considerably ahead of Banuelos and Betances.

"Now they both have the chance to take the next step up the developmental ladder," general manager Brian Cashman said. Betances made four starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, and Banuelos made seven. Both top prospects spent the bulk of their time with Double-A Trenton.

Betances, who turns 24 during spring training, reached the big leagues last September and appeared in two games. He tops out at 97 mph and fanned 10.1 per nine innings in the minors last season.

Banuelos, a 21-year-old lefty, never received that callup to New York, but he possesses a tantalizing curveball he used to notch 8.7 whiffs per nine.

However, each pitcher needs to find the strike zone more often, according to Cashman, after walking five batters per nine last year.

"Fastball command," he said when asked about their biggest area for improvement. "The other stuff was great."

Betances and Banuelos seem destined to begin the season with Scranton—but only if they're not traded first. Cashman said that Montero, the organization's top prospect for three years running, "might be the best player I ever traded." That can't be entirely comforting news for Banuelos and Betances, however, who now occupy the top two positions.


• The Yankees also acquired hard-throwing 19-year-old righthander Jose Campos in the Pineda trade. He led the short-season Northwest League with a 2.32 ERA and 85 strikeouts last year.

• The trade of Montero creates breathing room for catching prospect Austin Romine to establish himself in New York. He batted .279/.343/.368 in 351 at-bats for Double-A last year and received a surprise September callup.