BETANCES, BANUELOS CREATING THE BUZZ

Given right-hander Dellin Betances’ first spring-training appearance was televised on both YES and MLB Network – and replayed on both – the 6-foot-8, soon-to-be 23-year-old has Yankees fans buzzing.

This occurred last Sunday at Bright House Park in Clearwater and had the Phillies buzzing at Betances’ 97 mph fastball and knuckle-curve.

A day later, last Monday in Lakeland, Fla.’s Joker Marchant Stadium, Banuelos, who turns 20 March 13, overpowered Detroit’s hitters.  Even veteran Tigers manager Jim Leyland was shaking his head as the lefty mixed a 95 mph fastball with a consistent changeup.

Thunder fans, these are your top two opening starters, not necessarily in that order, for the 2011 season, which opens April 7 in Manchester, N.H., vs. the Fisher Cats. Yankees officials planned on having this duo stay with the Thunder for most of the season, but will the timetable be altered?

“I don’t think so,’’ said a scout from another American League East team.  “The two looked great in their first outings. The potential is there, but the two will benefit by having more time at Double-A.’’

Betances’ on-TV effort did settle one matter. The Yankees, and general manager Brian Cashman, were right to not trade either of these future stars for a middle-of-the-road starting pitcher.

There has always been over-the-winter speculation, trade talk and debate, but in this information age we have this option called Twitter. From a baseball stance, Twitter can be used to exchange information, offer opinion, chuckle and simply have a good conversation.

Following Cliff Lee’s decision to sign with the Phillies, Yankees tweeps, as Twitterers are nicknamed, by the dozens wanted to offer Betances or Banuelos for any pitcher, starting with Felix Hernandez, whom Seattle is not going to trade, Zach Greinke, who didn’t want to play in New York, and many less-valued hurlers.

Some asked why can’t Cashman pull the trigger? Prospects are prospects. However, Betances and Banuelos are more than just prospects. If all goes well, the duo could be in the Yankees’ rotation by late 2012.

On the other hand, both might run into adversity, but don’t bet on it.  Yet, there are a few steps both must take before they are near-ready for the big leagues. Both will get as much exposure to major-league hitters as possible and, undoubtedly, both will learn.

Starting with Betances, there are hurdles the talented kid from Brooklyn must overcome. In his favor, he seemed to adapt well in his three regular-season starts with the Thunder in 2010, going 0-0, 3.77 with strikeout/walk ratio of 20-3.

He was also effective in the Eastern League playoffs.

Yet, he has never pitched more than 121 innings in a season, and that came in 2008. Betances had elbow surgery in 2009 after 11 starts, but pitched superbly at Class-A Tampa, going 8-1, 1.77 in 14 starts from June until his August call-up to the Thunder.

He flashed a fastball in the 96-97 mph range, a dipping curveball and a developing changeup, His command can still use work, and the Yankees would love to see Betances throw 150 innings in 2011. There also are those who envision him as a reliever.

His stuff, the fastball and curve now, and the improving changeup, ticket him for a starter’s role. It will be interesting to see if both his overall command and changeup improve during his time in the Eastern League.

Banuelos, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound lefty, may be on an even faster track. The Mexican southpaw is a better pitcher than he was at the end of 2010, when he went 0-1, 3.52 in three regular-season starts with the Thunder, then came up with a gem in the playoffs at New Hampshire.

Perhaps it was because an appendectomy delayed the start of his season until June.  Perhaps it was because he got stronger over the winter.  Somehow, Banuelos’ fastball, which sat at 91-92 mph with the Thunder, exploded to the 95 mph range in the Arizona Fall League.

At Lakeland Monday, he was registering similar velocity and, with his changeup keeping batters off-balance, had a superb outing.

With Banuelos, command is not an issue. Scouts are amazed at how he can put any pitch where he wants to, and how easy his delivery is.  His curve is a developing pitch, but the overall package is quite impressive.

The Yankees are also looking for a 150-innings season from Banuelos, who threw a career-high 109 in 2009. Many rate him the best of the Bs – with Betances and Andrew Brackman, who will likely start the season at Triple-A Scranton – and a possibility for a big-league cup of coffee at the end of 2011.

Thunder fans will have a treat on their hands starting in April, watching this pair polish their already impressive tools. If all goes well, the two will provide a lot of headaches for manager Tony Franklin’s team’s Eastern League foes.

Chances are, like all the Yankees fans buzzing about the spring-training performances of the two, Thunder fans will quickly see why the each was too good to trade.

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LAIRD SHOOTING FOR PINSTRIPES: The buzz around camp is Brandon Laird, who produced a breakout season in Trenton in 2010, has a shot at earning a bench spot with the 2011 Yankees.

Given his versatility, an ability to play first base and third base, along with left field, Laird is in a battle with veteran Eric Chavez, who starred for several years with the Oakland Athletics.  The 23-year-old Laird faces off against a grizzled veteran.

If Laird hits well in spring training, and holds his own at the positions he plays, he becomes a solid low-cost option as a backup to Alex Rodriguez and others.

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SUTTLE WORKS AT FIRST: As figured by a few who analyze what the 2011 Thunder infield might be, Brad Suttle settling in at first base is looking more and more possible.

He has been doing some work at first, and likely will be stationed there when the Thunder come north in just over four weeks.

With both David Adams and Corban Joseph slated to return to Double-A, one will likely play second base, the other third. Suttle is not a shortstop – Jose Pirela will be given a shot at winning that job – which leaves the Texan, healthy and primed for a breakout season, at first.

“We’ll see how this plays out,’’ said Franklin.

Suttle could also quickly switch back to third base if Adams gets off as quick a start as he did in 2010 and earns a quick promotion to Triple-A Scranton.

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FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA: The Richmond Flying Squirrels now have two mascots, adding Zinger, with an acorn shape, to main mascot Nutzy, a squirrel … Fans of the Akron Aeros will be able to dine on several specialty items, including a 1-pound, 16-inch hot dog nicknamed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.’’ The huge all-beef product can be customized by an array of 40 toppings … Opening Night at Bowie will feature “Pack The Park For Pink,” a fund-raiser for the Susan G. Komen For The Cure organization dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer … Reading’s Turn Back the Clock promotion June 1 will feature Pennsylvania Dutch Night, starring former Phillies catcher Dutch Daulton.

BaseLines appears weekly on www.trentonthunder.com. Comments are welcomed and suggested below, or at jed.weisberger3@gmail.com. Follow on Twitter @jedleyq.

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