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Banuelos has his moments in Triple-A debut

Lefthander Manny Banuelos pitches for the Yankees in

Lefthander Manny Banuelos pitches for the Yankees in a spring training start against the Red Sox on March 14, 2011. Credit: AP

MOOSIC, Pa. -- This is no time to call the Yankees' promotion of 20-year-old Manny Banuelos to Scranton/Wilkes- Barre a Nostradamus moment.

All in all, his one evening couldn't possibly foretell his readiness to provide the Yankees with lefthanded relief help in the immediate future. It did provide the next step in a career that has fed an anticipatory buzz over his outsized potential.

In his Triple-A debut here Tuesday night, Banuelos started and showed off a hopping fastball, routinely reaching 93 mph. He was unafraid to mix in some mean-spirited curves and timely off-speed pitches.

But, against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, he also was bruised by a home run and an RBI triple. In five innings, Banuelos allowed two runs, seven hits, three walks and unleashed a wild pitch. He left after 100 pitches (62 strikes), finishing with his eighth strikeout. He got no decision in the eventual 3-2 Scranton victory.

"He's got a high ceiling,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "He's 20 years old. I don't have any expectations, necessarily, for the major leagues this year. But he's already pushed himself ahead of his schedule for his age, so he should be very proud for where he's at at this young stage.''

There wasn't "anything left for him'' in Double-A, Cashman said. "As we move into next year, the gap is closer to the big leagues. His stuff is electric. But there's still things he needs to work on and that's what he's here for.''

Banuelos hails from Monterrey, Mexico, in the state of Nuevo León, whose Latin motto is "Semper Ascendens'' -- "Always Ascending.'' And so far, that maxim fits Banuelos. In only his fourth professional season, he already has been compared to a young Ron Guidry, to Johan Santana, even to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (by former Kershaw teammate and current Yankees catcher Russell Martin).

Tuesday night, he was "a little bit nervous,'' Banuelos said. "It's good for me, to be at this level.''

And the next step?

"I hope for that,'' he said. "I want to get there pretty soon. I will be very excited. I just keep pitching hard because I want to get there soon.''

He's ranked as the 10th-best prospect among lefthanded pitchers by Baseball America. Banuelos told the Trenton Times Herald-Record last week that he was rattled by repeated calls -- many from his family in Mexico -- regarding his status as trade bait, a possibility he said he found to be both "flattering and distracting.''

To stay in the Yankees organization was his preference. And Banuelos became the youngest player -- at 20 years, 142 days -- to play for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre since it became a Yankees affiliate in 2007. Then again, the youngest ever to debut here, when the franchise was a Phillies farm team, was 18-year-old infielder Jesus Garces in 1991.

Garces' career lasted only three minor-league seasons, during which he hit .185. So it is not yet time to count Banuelos' chickens.

New York Sports