New York Yankees prospect Manuel Banuelos playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Background and Intangibles
Banuelos: Signed out of Mexico in 2008, Manny Banuelos made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League that summer, pitching well for the GCL Yankees and emerging as a sleeper to watch. He followed that up with a strong 2009 season in the South Atlantic League, then continued pitching well in 2010, although his season didn't get started until June due to a spring appendectomy. He was the youngest and one of the most impressive pitchers in the Arizona Fall League. He has excellent mound presence and a mature demeanor, especially given his age, earning high marks for his makeup.
Perez: Martin Perez was signed out of Venezuela in 2007, earning a $580,000 bonus. He was raw and didn't throw hard at that point, but the Rangers loved his projectability. He had a decent North American debut in the Northwest League in 2008, then bumped up his velocity and broke out with a spectacular performance in the South Atlantic League in 2009, earning a late promotion to Double-A. He returned to Frisco for 2010 but struggled, losing the touch with his mechanics and being bothered by nagging injuries. He was very confident in A-ball in '09, but since reaching Double-A he's looked nervous at times. One observer told me that Perez looked "totally lost on the mound" during a difficult start last summer, but other observers told me he looked just fine in other games. The Rangers admit he'll overthrow at times but point out that he was extremely young for Double-A last year and that he just needs to get more experience.
Advantage: Perez had a higher profile as an amateur, but Banuelos has come a long way quickly. I don't think there is anything wrong with Perez that more experience won't cure, but Banuelos is ahead in the "intangible" makeup game at this point.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Banuelos: Banuelos is a 5-10, 155 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born March 13, 1991. He isn't the best athlete in the world, but he generates excellent velocity for a pitcher his size, throwing 90-94 MPH and sometimes higher. His mechanics are smooth, clean, and easy, and scouts have a hard time figuring out how he throws so hard with so little apparent effort. He threw just 87-92 MPH in past seasons, so the velocity boost last year was very noticeable. Banuelos mixes the heater with a very good changeup and an improving curveball, which was below average in '09 but rated as at least solid last year and looked plus to me when I saw him in Arizona. His control is very good-to-excellent. Although the appendicitis last year is obviously not going to recur, he did suffer from a "tired arm" in 2009, and some scouts wonder about his durability given his size. The Yankees believe that he has a good shot at staying healthy due to his delivery.
Perez: Perez is a 6-0, 178 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born April 4, 1991. He can hit 95 MPH when his mechanics are in synch, but he often threw just 88-91 MPH during his struggles in Double-A last year. At this best, he has a clean, balanced, low-effort delivery generating easy velocity, but he's still prone to overthrowing, hurting both his command and stuff. His changeup is above average for his age and helps him look like a young Johan Santana when all is well. Perez also flashes a plus curveball, but the pitch is erratic and sometimes fails him. He showed both command and control in 2009, but it's been more troublesome in Double-A, strong in some games and weak in others. He's avoided arm problems thus far, though a strained lower back bothered him last summer and could have been partially responsible for his struggles.
Advantage: They were born within a month of each other. Perez is a better athlete and likely has better pure arm strength, though Banuelos isn't a slouch by any means and their velocities are similar. Both have very good changeups. Both have curveballs that are plus at their best but are still inconsistent at times. Banuelos has better command at this point. Neither of them are physical giants, but Perez looks more like a pitcher and scouts don't wonder where his velocity comes from. Banuelos has more consistent mechanics. Both have had non-arm related injuries, and both have had periods where their velocities dropped off. On balance, this looks pretty even to me, Perez's more classic physicality balanced by Banuelos' superior polish at this phase.
Banuelos: Banuelos posted a 2.23 ERA (1.71 FIP) with a 62/14 K/BB in 44 innings for High-A Tampa last year, followed by a 3.52 ERA with a 17/8 K/BB in 15 innings in Double-A. His overall line was a 2.51 ERA with a 85/25 K/bb in 65 innings, 54 hits allowed, with a 1.24 GO/AO. He posted a 3.60 ERA with a 16/10 K/BB in 25 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
Perez: Perez posted a 5.96 ERA with a 101/50 K/BB in 100 innings in Double-A last year, with 117 hits allowed, 1.33 GO/AO, and 4.24 FIP. He definitely struggled at times, but the high ERA overstates matters, and he was pitching at a level higher than Banuelos most of the year. He wasn't great in winter ball, posting a 6.50 ERA with a 16/11 K/BB and 23 hits in 18 innings in Venezuela.
Advantage: Perez did not pitch as badly as his 5.96 ERA indicates; his FIP was a run and a half lower. However, Banuelos still had a better year overall and is ahead on performance at this point.
Banuelos: Due to his size and frame, Banuelos isn't likely to pick up much additional velocity. However, if he maintains what he has now, he looks like a possible number three starter or even a number two if he fully maximizes his ability. There was talk of him becoming a reliever after his dead-arm bout in '09, but such talk has faded after his performance last year.
Perez: If Perez can maintain his peak velocity more often and command his curveball more readily, he projects as a strong number three or a number two starter. If everything really comes together, he could become a genuine rotation anchor, number one starter.
Advantage: Perez has more classic projectability than Banuelos.
Summary: Banuelos has edges in intangibles and current performance, Perez has the edge in projectabilty, and I rate them as "different but even" overall in pitching tools. From the looks of this, Banuelos has a slight edge, but that isn't how I rated them in the 2011 Baseball Prospect Book.
There, I gave Perez a Grade B+ and ranked him 27th overall among pitchers, while I gave Banuelos a Grade B and ranked him 34th overall. Note that Banuelos' Grade B was the highest Grade B in the book, and that I had originally rated Perez as a Grade B. While I think Banuelos has a "higher floor" than Perez, I think Perez's projectability and upside are higher, even if his chance of failure is higher, too. In this case, I went with the upside bet.