PITTSBURGH – It was on a warm night at Yankee Stadium June 3 when Manny Banuelos fulfilled what he had long described as a “lifelong dream.”
Less than a month after accomplishing that dream – pitching at last from the Stadium mound some 14 years after the Yankees signed him as a teenager – Banuelos was gone from the big-league roster, designated for assignment June 28.
Five days after that, Banuelos, now 31, was gone from the only organization he ever wanted to play for, traded to the Pirates for cash considerations.
Banuelos arrived in Pittsburgh Tuesday and was in uniform, and in the Pirates bullpen Wednesday night when his new team was taking on, naturally, his old one.
“It’s tough when you get DFA’d but, to be honest, when I was with the Yankees in spring training, I understood that situation,” Banuelos said Wednesday afternoon in the Pirates clubhouse. “I wasn’t in the (long-term) plans for them, but I was ready to do my best and help them when I was there.”
Banuelos, signed to a minor-league deal by the Yankees in January, was given that opportunity after finally proving – during back-to-back seasons in Taiwan and then in winter ball in his native Mexico – he was healthy.
Which was not insignificant given the toll injuries had taken on his career.
Banuelos was part of the Killer B’s from a decade-plus ago – a group comprising Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman – and was supposed to be the best of the trio.
He seemed well on his way after a standout spring training camp as a 19-year-old in 2011, impressing not only rival scouts and executives but veteran teammates as well.
None other than Mariano Rivera that spring declared Banuelos the “best” pitching prospect he’d ever seen.
But injuries soon took hold and by the time Banuelos – made his big-league debut, it was in 2015 with Atlanta. After bouncing around in the majors and internationally thereafter, another opportunity for Banuelos to pitch in the Bronx presented itself last winter and he jumped at it, even with the knowledge he was, at best, seen as depth to be stored in the minor leagues.
Which, after a healthy spring in which he pitched well, was where Banuelos started the season, with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“I knew when they sent me to Triple A [after spring training], I understood that I wasn’t in their plans,” Banuelos said. “But I really appreciate they gave me the chance to pitch in New York and they gave me the opportunity to come here.”
Which set up June 3 when Banuelos at last took the mound at the Stadium, pitching two scoreless innings in a 13-0 victory over the Tigers. Though Gerrit Cole took a perfect game into the eighth inning that night, it was Banuelos being presented with the championship belt postgame in the clubhouse, something awarded by players after each win to the star of the game.
“That,” Cole said of Banuelos’ outing, “was the coolest part of the night.”
Banuelos choked up talking about it after the game – and for days after – calling it one of the highlights of his professional life.
But professionals ultimately want the chance to perform at the highest level and, feel-good element of Banuelos’ story aside, the opportunity to do that consistently wasn’t likely to come with the Yankees.
So for that reason, Banuelos, who had a 2.16 ERA in four appearances with the Yankees, sees the trade for what it is – a chance to, assuming health, finally pitch for an extended time in the majors.
“As a player you don’t just want to be in the big leagues, you want to compete, you want to play,” Banuelos said. “When I was there, I understood what my role was in the bullpen and I feel like here I have more of a chance. And I’m happy because I feel healthy and strong. The whole years has been good for me, so I just want to keep doing it.”