GLENDALE, Ariz. — In 2011, Manny Banuelos was supposed to be the next big thing. The hard-throwing left-hander was the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, and MLB.com ranked him as the No. 14 prospect in baseball.
Even Hall of Fame reliever Mariano Rivera was blown away by the then-19-year-old’s fastball. Rivera even called Banuelos the best pitching prospect he had ever seen.
But as fate would have it, Banuelos hasn’t made it as a major-league pitcher. He has appeared in only six big-league games.
Banuelos’ career has been derailed nine times by injuries in the last eight seasons. His biggest setback came in October 2012, when he had Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the next season.
“The main things that have prevented me from being in the majors were basically my injuries,” Banuelos said. “Those were very tough and challenging times for me. But the last three years, I’ve been healthy and improving. I’m getting the strength in my arm, and I think right now I’m in the best position to finally be in the majors.”
The White Sox are giving Banuelos a second chance and signed him to a one-year contract in November, though he hasn’t thrown in a major-league game since 2015.
“I felt very surprised that an organization had enough interest in me to get me on the [major-league] roster,” Banuelos said. “I’m very thankful for the White Sox because I feel like they have trust in me and believe I can help the team win, and that’s my goal.”
Banuelos isn’t taking this opportunity lightly. Truth be told, he felt like he was running out of options entering this offseason. If it wasn’t for the Sox, Banuelos considered taking his talents to Japan.
In Banuelos’ early days, scouts thought he had the upside to be a solid No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher in the Yankees’ rotation for a long time. But the Sox see him more as a bullpen guy with the potential to possibly hold down the fifth spot in the rotation while veteran right-hander Ervin Santana gets ready for that role.
The Sox have been happy with how Banuelos has pitched in the Cactus League. In his four appearances, he’s 1-1 with a 5.59 ERA and has allowed nine hits and six earned runs and struck out 14 batters in 9⅔ innings.
Banuelos said he’s not completely satisfied with how he has thrown.
“Honestly, I’m very demanding of myself,” he said. “I can’t control if I pitch in the rotation or bullpen. The things that I can control are how I perform, and that’s why I’m always trying to get better, always trying to improve. I’m not a person who gets satisfied when things go well because I know things can always be better.”
Though Banuelos has faced adversity numerous times in his career, he never has lost sight of his dream of making it in the majors.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you fall; it’s about how many times you step up and keep moving forward,” Banuelos said. “I don’t think about what I’ve been through. I only think about what I can do, and I’m always looking at what is next. I always try to think in a positive way. I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity because I know I can do it. I’m healthy, and that’s what matters the most.”