One of the brightest young arms in all of baseball, Manny Banuelos will start the 2011 season with the Trenton Thunder. (Schofield)

TAMPA, Fla. – Life is good for Manny Banuelos, a fun-loving, just-turned-20 left-handed Yankees super-prospect who will start his 2011 season at Trenton.

He’s been impressive in Grapefruit League action for the Yankees, having allowed just four hits and amassed 10 strikeouts in four appearances and nine innings of work.

This has been recognized in the Yankees clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field, where Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, A.J. Burnett and others stop by his end-of-the-row locker.

“The kid can pitch,’’ said Rodriguez. “We are all impressed with him. Not too long from now, he’ll be helping us.’’

First, however, he will help the Thunder, likely as the defending Eastern League East Division champs’ opening-night pitcher at New Hampshire April 7.

“That would be fine with me,’’ said Thunder manager Tony Franklin. “I haven’t seen that much of him this spring because he has been over with the big club, but I’m getting the reports and hearing the same things you are.

“This is a very special young man.’’

Banuelos has grasped all the attention, and is enjoying it. He sees his big-league dream is in reach, but knows he still has to prove it on the field. With a fastball that has clocked at 96 mph., a plus-plus changeup that baffled Boston’s Dustin Pedroia last week in Fort Myers, and a curve that is rapidly approaching plus-plus status, he’s getting there.

“I know I am starting in Trenton, and I will have to go across the street (to the Yankees’ Minor League Complex) eventually,’’ he said. “This, however, will be the last time. I have my dream of playing in the big leagues, and I see it turning into reality.

“I am thankful I have been blessed with this ability.’’

At 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, throwing from the port side, he has been compared to Whitey Ford with his poise, superb mechanics and ability to repeat his delivery. His change is so effective because he releases it with the same arm action as his fastball.

Now, with a fastball with increased velocity, his effectiveness is lethal to opposing hitters.

“I don’t know why I am throwing my fastball harder, except for the fact that I feel really good,’’ said Banuelos.  “Maybe I was slowed a bit, and not at full strength because of the appendectomy I had. I missed almost half the season.

“I like how I’m throwing now. I’m ready to get the season started.  I can’t wait to get to Trenton, do the work I have to and move on. I want to be able to move through the system in “rapidamente” fashion so I can get to New York.’’

Prior to his increase in velocity, many compared Banuelos to a young Johan Santana. When one adds a tailing fastball at that speed to his other arsenal of pitches, even the toughest talent scouts talk about with excitement.

“I know what I have to do,’’ said Banuelos. “I want to be consistent for an entire season, no matter what level I am at. If I do what I think I can, and what I am supposed to, I will realize my dream sooner than later.

“Being in the Yankees clubhouse, I see how these guys conduct themselves. I have to do the same thing. I just want to get the season started.’’

So do Thunder fans with Banuelos on the way.


ADAMS ON WAY BACK: Infielder David Adams, whose 2010 season ended due to a broken ankle after a strong April in Trenton, is chomping at the bit to play.

“I feel great,’’ he said. “I’m ready. I’m looking forward to getting back on track.’’

Adams will start either with the Thunder or at Triple-A Scranton.  The glut of talented infielders heading Trenton’s way, coupled with Adams’ ability, could bring him a Triple-A assignment.

Baselines is providing daily spring-training reports from the Thunder camp in Tampa, Fla. Comments are welcomed below, or at  Follow on Twitter at @jedleyq.


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