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Prospect Smackdown: Battle of the Lefties, Manny Banuelos vs. Martin Perez

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Wednesday: Prospect Smackdown: Manny Banuelos vs. Martin Perez

For today's Prospect Smackdown, let's take a look at a pair of talented-but-enigmatic southpaws: Manny Banuelos of the New York Yankees and Martin Perez of the Texas Rangers.

Banuelos: The Yankees signed Banuelos as a free agent from Mexico in 2008, one of four players signed for a composite $450,000 as a group. At the time, he was seen as a possible bullpen contributor, but an increase in velocity and a strong Low-A performance in 2009 boosted his stock. His makeup is well-regarded and he was considered cool and savvy on the mound, although in 2011 he overthrew at times.

The Rangers signed Martin Perez as a free agent from Venezuela in 2007, giving him a $580,000 bonus. He was considered one of the best pitchers available in the Latin American market that year due to his projectability and short-but-athletic frame, drawing frequent comparisons to Johan Santana. He works hard but has shown some frustration on the mound at times in the high minors, resulting in overthrowing.

Perez had a higher profile as an amateur, but Banuelos deserves credit for rising from obscurity. Both pitchers are considered emotionally mature enough to handle the high minors at a young age, although both showed a few adaptation problems against advanced hitters, which is quite understandable. It isn't a red flag in either case.


Banuelos: Banuelos is a 5-11, 155 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born March 13, 1991. He threw in the upper-80s when he signed, but his velocity kicked up a notch in 2009 and he's maintained it, topping out at 95-96 at times and working consistently at 89-94. His fastball moves very well. His curveball and changeup are advanced for his age. Although both secondary pitches need further polish, in the end he should have three quality major league offerings. Despite his size, Banuelos has plenty of arm speed and generates velocity with little effort, which augers well for his durability. His mechanics and command looked quite consistent in '09 and '10, but he overthrew and lost the touch with his location at times in '11, resulting in a higher walk rate in Double-A and Triple-A. The Yankees remain very enthusiastic, although observers not connected with the team felt he was a bit disappointing last year. Given his age, this seems a bit unfair, although it is true he has work to do. Physical issues include a tired arm late in 2009, and appendicitis in 2010.

Perez: Perez is a 6-0, 178 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born April 4, 1991. Like Banuelos, he threw in the upper-80s when signed, but the Rangers expected his velocity to pick up as he matured physically, and indeed it did. He works at 90-93 now, topping at 95-96. His fastball has excellent movement on his best days. Perez also has a promising curveball and changeup. Both are plus pitches at times, but he has problems showing his best stuff on a consistent basis. In some starts, he'll show three excellent pitches and mow through a lineup, but on other days his fastball flattens out and he has trouble commanding his secondary offerings. Sometimes his stuff varies considerably from inning to inning. He has good mechanics and generates his velocity without a lot of effort. His biggest physical problem was a sore lower back in '10 which cut into his velocity.

They were born within a month of each other. Both are short lefties who generate plus velocity due to athleticism and clean mechanics, although Perez has more of a classic pitcher body. Both of them have plus fastballs. Both of them have promising curveballs and changeups, but both of them also have problems with inconsistency and command. Both have had minor physical issues but no major injuries.


Banuelos: Banuelos posted a 3.59 ERA with a 94/52 K/BB and 94 hits allowed in 95 innings for Double-A Trenton last year, with a 1.15 GO/AO, 4.01 FIP. Promoted to Triple-A, he posted a 4.19 ERA with a 31/19 K/BB and a 1.34 GO/AO with 36 hits allowed in 34 innings, 3.90 FIP. He has a career 3.02 ERA with a 353/137 K/BB in 345 innings and 304 hits allowed, although his walk rate rose considerably in the high minors compared to what it was in A-ball.

Perez posted a 3.16 ERA with an 83/36 K/BB and 80 hits allowed in 88 innings for Double-A Frisco, with a 1.40 GO/AO, 3.46 FIP. Promoted to Triple-A Round Rock, he posted a 6.43 ERA with a 37/20 K/BB in 49 innings, with 72 hits allowed and a 1.35 GO/AO and a 3.98 FIP. In his career he has a 4.22 ERA with a 393/172 K/BB in 413 innings with 446 hits allowed, although more than half of his professional innings have been in the difficult Texas and Pacific Coasts Leagues despite his age.

Although it looks like Banuelos is ahead on the surface, Perez's performance in context was virtually the same last year, and actually better in Double-A if you believe FIP. It is difficult to directly compare their career numbers since Perez pitched all of 2010 in Double-A while Banuelos was in the much friendlier (and more age-appropriate) Florida State League.


Banuelos: If everything works out, Banuelos looks like a number two starter to me, throwing strikes with three strong pitches.
I don't think Perez is going to become Johan Santana, but if everything works out he can become a number two starter, throwing strikes with three strong pitches.
In their 2012 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America rates both pitchers as "65" (ie, future number two starter) with "Medium risk". In other words, their projections are virtually the same.

SUMMARY: Although their backgrounds differ, you can see how close these guys are. Both have plus fastballs. Both have promising, but erratic, secondary pitches, and both have had bouts of command troubles but also showing great pitchability at their best. Banuelos has better surface statistics but they are much closer than they appear once you consider context. Both have been pushed quickly, with Perez being flat-out rushed in my view. Perez has a more classic pitcher build.

In my 2012 Baseball Prospect Book, I gave Perez a B+ and Banuelos a B, although they were extremely close, borderline grades, with Perez ranking 38th on the pitcher list and Banuelos ranking 40th. That was my opinion in early January. I've probably spent more time thinking about these two guys than any other prospect pair since then. In the Minor League Ball Top 120 list I posted last week, Banuelos ended up at 45 and Perez at 83, which implies a greater shift in my thinking than I intended.

I still see them as very close, both right on the borderline between B+ and very strong B. I will update the Top 120 before the season begins, and at that point hopefully we'll have some spring training data to assess.