Mariano Rivera praises Manny Banuelos

Updated: March 10, 2011, 10:40 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- The greatest pitching prospect whom Mariano Rivera had ever seen was 1991 first overall pick Brien Taylor. Taylor and Rivera were teammates for Class A Fort Lauderdale in 1992.

In the nearly two decades since then, Rivera has watched prospects come and go, but he has never seen one better than Taylor.

Until now.

The greatest closer in the game thinks 19-year-old lefty Manny Banuelos is the greatest pitching prospect he has ever seen.

[+] EnlargeManuel Banuelos
AP Photo/Kathy WillensManuel Banuelos, who's targeted to start the season no higher than Double-A Trenton, increased his spring scoreless innings total to five Wednesday.

"I would say so," Rivera said during a conversation with ESPNNewYork.com in which he revisited Taylor's devastating skills and Banuelos' combination of ability and composure.

"I like everything about him," Rivera said of Banuelos. "The makeup and how he keeps his composure. I notice situations and how you react in situations. Where you make your pitches in tough situations, where you spot your pitches, he has the ability to do that."

The left-handed Banuelos, who turns 20 on Sunday, has become the talk of Yankees spring training. He has four pitches, throws in the mid-90s and has a mindset that belies his age.

Before Banuelos fired another two scoreless innings against the Pirates Wednesday night, raising his total to five, general manager Brian Cashman reiterated that there was "no chance" that Banuelos will start the year any higher than Double-A Trenton. Cashman is going to be extremely hesitant to trade Banuelos, even with the Yankees thinking they may need to trade for more starting pitching during this season.

What has impressed veterans like Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada is how composed Banuelos acts at such a young age.

Rivera has begun to advise Banuelos. Rivera has told "little Manny" to not listen to all the hype. The clutter will only cloud his chances.

"'Stay humble, stay within yourself, God will take care of the rest,'" Rivera said he has told Banuelos. "You don't try to put that junk in your mind because that will hurt you."

Banuelos, who is from Monterrey, Mexico, speaks decent English. He understands what Rivera's compliment means. When it is relayed to him that Rivera has said he is the best prospect he has ever seen, Banuelos smiled sheepishly.

"Mo said that, 'Thank you, Mo,'" Banuelos said.

Derek Jeter's locker in the Yankees clubhouse is in the direct sight of Banuelos'. Jeter watches young players as they come in. He thinks anyone can have talent, but it is how a young player carries himself that ultimately defines him.

"You want to have confidence, but you don't want to have arrogance," Jeter said. "There is a fine line between the two."

Banuelos doesn't seem overwhelmed by the attention. Before Rivera gave Banuelos his advice, Bauneulos' mother, Maria Cruz Meza, had laid the groundwork, Banuelos said.

"Every day, I try to work hard and keep my feet on the ground," Banuelos said.

With Andy Pettitte retired, the Core Four is down to three. Like Rivera, Jeter and Posada knew all about Taylor's potential. It was ruined by a fight, which irrevocably wrecked his shoulder and ended one of the greatest prospect's career before he ever got to the majors.

"He was free and easy, 97-98 [mph] fastball," Rivera said of Taylor. "He didn't know how to pitch at all, but, man, he had some kind of abilities. He was learning until he had his shoulder [hurt] or something. For lefties, that was the guy."

Until now. Until Banuelos arrived. Banuelos has the mind to go along with the left arm.

"He goes out and does his business," Posada said.

Three years ago, shortly after Banuelos was signed, a rehabilitating Posada first caught him in extended spring training. He knew right away that Banuelos had the arm. Now, it is refined.

"He has all the stuff," Posada said.

The stuff to be called the greatest pitching prospect Rivera has ever seen. And what has impressed Rivera the most is that statements like that aren't going to Banuelos' head.

Baneuelos likes the kind words. His dream is to pitch in the majors. For now, though, he is accepting compliments as he rises.

"If [Rivera] says that, maybe it is real," Banuelos said.

Andrew Marchand covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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