The single defining theme of spring training, I think, is the euphoria that overcomes Baseball Men when they see a talented young pitcher who hasn't been broken yet. Examples abound -- I'll never forget Joe Posnanski's column about Jeremy Affeldt one spring -- and it looks like (just barely) 20-year-old Manny Banuelos is The One this spring. Ken Davidoff (via Newsday.com) ...
"I think I'm ready" for the big leagues, Banuelos told reporters after he pitched, but his boss, Brian Cashman , presented this counterpoint: "He's going to the minor leagues to pitch in the rotation. He's not making this team."
Forty years ago, he might have. It wasn't common, but occasionally pitchers would go straight from college to the majors, or even straight from high school. Larry Dierker debuted in the majors on his 18th birthday, and threw 147 innings for the Astros the next season. When Gary Nolan was 19, he threw 227 innings for the Cincinnati Reds, in fact pitched brilliantly ... and was never quite the same afterward.
In those days, the great majority of Baseball Men simply didn't consider things like age or experience or injury risks. If a kid was good enough to pitch in the major leagues, then by Golly he pitched in the major leagues.
For better or worse -- you probably know what I think -- it just isn't done that way anymore. Very rarely, anyway.
Manny Banuelos pitched 109 innings in 2008, when he was 18. Last season he pitched only 65 innings, because of appendicitis. He did throw a few more frames in the Arizona Fall League. But the Yankees want him to start, and they also want to limit him to around 140 innings this season because of what happened last season.
Granted, when Old Baseball Men see him pitch like he pitched against the Red Sox Monday night, they can't help wanting to see him pitching against the Red Sox next month, when it counts. If he could do it Monday, why not in April?
Even a few Young Baseball Men probably were salivating Monday might. So maybe he's not ready to start 25 or 30 games for the Yankees ... What about throwing 60 innings out of the bullpen? He's got enough stuff for that, right?
Maybe he does. But the Yankees aren't desperate for relief help, and Brian Cashman's got a plan for Banuelos and this is absolutely not the time to start mucking about with that plan. If he's really so precocious and he's one of those rare young specimens who can throw 95 miles an hour without shredding his elbow or shoulder, he'll get his big shot next spring, or perhaps even the spring after that.
The Baseball Men can wait. The waiting is part of it.