40-man spot, lack of options are two things the incumbent Triple-A prospects can't claim
One of the smarter things I did last winter was give Daniel Palka a second thought in late November.
My first conclusion a few days before — that he and Casey Gillaspie could star in the two-Spider-Men-pointing-at-each-other meme — would’ve been very wrong. Gillaspie ended up hitting like his brother looked, batting .220/.285/.325 with three homers in 71 games. Palka also hit three homers at Charlotte, but only through 17 games. The White Sox called him up, and Palka ended up sharing the rookie home-run lead with Miguel Andujar with 27 apiece.
Instead, I left myself this out:
Willy Garcia is a good reason for taking a little time to consider Palka on his own merits, though. He came to the Sox on a waiver claim from Pittsburgh in January and ended up being one of the first outfielders promoted in April despite an even less notable minor-league track record. Palka could end up grabbing a similar share of major league action as the roster shuffles, although an Avisail Garcia trade would result more in a roster earthquake.
Manny Banuelos hit those “seems-like-those-other-guys” notes to me when the White Sox traded Justin Yurchak for him on Thursday. The Sox aren’t short on fringe starters who hasn’t been able to escape Triple-A. Banuelos has Spencer Adams/Jordan Guerrero/Jordan Stephens beat in terms of MLB experience, but those seven games came back in 2015 with mid-rebuild Braves club.
He’s spent the entirely of the last two seasons in Triple-A, pitching poorly at Salt Lake (Angels), but fairly well with Oklahoma City (Dodgers). The Angels always need starters, and the Dodgers always have too many, so that’s one of them bad breaks that can stunt borderline careers.
Banuelos’ performance in 2018 — 127 strikeouts over 109 innings and a 3.73 in the Pacific Coast League — resulted in better numbers than any of his fringe competitors on the Sox posted in the pitcher-friendly International League, but that could be a result of being older than the competition.
This being the case, I wanted to wait until some updated reports of his stuff came in to better understand what the White Sox might see. Here’s Kyle Glaser from Baseball America:
Banuelos’ fastball now sits 91-92 mp and touches 94 mph—down from 92-95 and touching 97 mph at his peak—and his best secondary is a mid-80s slider that’s effective when he puts it on the back foot of righthies. His changeup and curveball flash moments of effectiveness but are not consistent. He prefers starting to relieving and it showed in his overall results. He went 8-5, 3.55 in 18 starts with Triple-A Oklahoma City this year compared to 1-2, 4.67 in 13 relief appearances. Banuelos no longer has anything plus, but he’ll an opportunity to return to the majors with the pitching-starved White Sox.
Banuelos requires a 40-man roster spot and he’s out of options, so it seems like he’s a part of the White Sox’ initial plans. Jose Ruiz is an example of somebody whom the White Sox were able to claim off another team’s 40-man roster, only to sneak him through waivers themselves to free up a spot the same offseason, but the idea of a trade makes it seem to underscore actual intent, even if moving Yurchak might be just as much about freeing up all the A-ball first base reps for Corey Zangari. It’d be a little weird for the White Sox to trade a guy for somebody they lose through waivers before playing a game.
The White Sox have a few spots on the pitching staff somebody of Banuelos’ shape can fill. If he truly deserves a chance to start — and the Sox want to cement Dylan Covey in the bullpen — the White Sox have two vacancies in their rotation. If they end up pushing him out of the top five by acquiring more proven starters, they might need somebody to take over Hector Santiago’s job as a left-handed swingman. They were going to need a 40-man spot for an outside acquisition for one of those spots, and now Banuelos has the inside track.
The question here is what this means for those other fringe starters. Jordan Stephens, Jordan Guerrero and Spencer Adams all require 40-man consideration later this month, but the White Sox weren’t concerned with losing such spot starters last year by leaving Guerrero exposed. Perhaps that’ll be the case again this year, because Banuelos has gotten the jump on at least one of them. Maybe all of them.