Trenton Thunder pitcher Manny Banuelos (13) poses for a photo...

Trenton Thunder pitcher Manny Banuelos (13) poses for a photo prior to the game against the Harrisburg Senators at Waterfront Park. (June 15, 2011) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

To get to the future of the Yankees' starting pitching rotation, one has to walk down a dimly lit hall with cinderblock walls, enter a clubhouse that is the definition of the word "cramped'' and squeeze past a training table that features Doritos, a jar of peanut butter and macaroni salad.

There, tucked away side-by-side in the decidedly unglamorous Double-A Trenton Thunder clubhouse, are the lockers of the two players who are considered gems among the Yankees' pitching prospects.

Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, friends and roommates, hope to become teammates on the Yankees someday.

How soon that day will come is becoming a subject of great debate as the Yankees struggle with injuries in their starting rotation and bullpen. Though general manager Brian Cashman has said he's not planning on bringing them up anytime soon, it's hard not to be curious about the progress of these two young hurlers. After all, there is a distinct possibility that one or both could join the Yankees in September, much as Joba Chamberlain did in 2007 when he set up Mariano Rivera and dominated opposing hitters.

Perhaps no one knows the potential of the two pitchers better than Tony Franklin, the manager of the Thunder. Franklin, who also managed Chamberlain and Phil Hughes when they were with the Thunder, is careful not to come right out and say he doesn't think the two aren't ready for the big leagues. But it doesn't take much reading between the lines to see that he doesn't.

"My thinking is -- and I'm old-school -- that when you go to the major leagues, you should be over-ripe," Franklin said last week. "Right now, they're not even green yet."

Though both players have had control issues this season, their numbers aren't exactly green.

Betances, 23, is a physically imposing 6-8, 260-pound righthander from Green Street Campus High School in the Bronx. In 11 starts for Trenton, he is 3-2 with a 1.76 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He has struck out 66 in 561/3 innings and is holding opposing hitters to a .176 batting average.

Banuelos, 20, is only 5-11 and 155 pounds, but he wowed the Yankees in spring training with his presence on the mound and the way the ball seemed to explode out of his left hand. After allowing five earned runs in three innings Friday, Banuelos is 2-1 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 13 starts.

On the surface, the two seem to have little in common other than a 96-mph fastball.

Betances grew up in the city and was headed for Vanderbilt before the Yankees changed his mind with a $1-million signing bonus. Tall, outspoken and confident, he looks the part of a major-leaguer.

Banuelos, born in Monterrey, Mexico, speaks English but uses an interpreter in media interviews to help him with the nuances of the language. Deferential and soft-spoken, he prefaces almost every comment by saying he wants to do what is best for his team.

Both are lifelong Yankees fans, which has helped cement their friendship. When Betances found out that Banuelos had never been to Yankee Stadium or New York, he took him and two of his other teammates on a road trip to visit his family.

One of the first things they did when they got to New York was head to the Bronx and walk around the outside of the Stadium.

"I liked it," Baneulos said. "Next time, I want to be inside of it."

It's an aspiration shared by Betances, though his immediate goal is to get past the fifth inning. The Yankees have been fairly strict about how many pitches their youngsters throw, and too many times he has found himself battling his pitch count. In a 6-1 loss to Harrisburg on Wednesday, he threw 56 strikes in 93 pitches in five innings. He gave up one earned run, three hits and four walks, striking out eight.

Betances admits to closely following the Yankees' pitching situation and says it's nice to hear his name being thrown out there.

"I feel like I'm ready to pitch up there if I get the chance," he said. "Whenever they call me, I'm ready."

His manager isn't saying he isn't, but it's clear he believes both star prospects could use a little more time right where they are.

Said Franklin: "We all know their futures are pretty bright, but I don't know if it would serve them best to go to the major leagues right now if they possibly weren't ready. If those guys at this tender age have the ability to go there and compete and stay there, then I would say there is no problem taking them. But if there is some question about whether or not they can, then I think we need to think twice about doing that.''

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