Scouting Report: RHP Brian Bannister

Bannister Is Ready For The Big Leagues

The New York Mets drafted Brian Bannister out of the University of Southern California in the 7th round of the 2003 draft. Bannister, the son of former Major League pitcher Floyd Bannister, added a big pitch to his repertoire in 2005 and is now widely regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in the farm system. Here's a scouting report on Brian Bannister.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Brian Bannister
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: February 28, 1981
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 210
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

No matter where Brian Bannister has gone, there always seemed to be another pitcher stealing the headlines.

At the University of South California, Bannister shared the Trojans' pitching rotation with a fellow named Mark Prior, who obviously went on to great success as the franchise starter of the Chicago Cubs.

And, after being selected by the Mets in the seventh round of the June 2003 draft, Bannister worked his way up the ladder of the organization's farm system, only to be overlooked behind right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, widely considered the Mets' top pitching prospect.

That all changed last November, as the Mets dealt Petit to the Florida Marlins as part of a deal for first baseman Carlos Delgado, clearing an unchallenged spot atop the Mets' pitching prospect rankings.

Bannister again could wind up being overshadowed if No. 1 draft pick Mike Pelfrey finally signs with the organization, when Philip Humber returns from Tommy John surgery this summer, or if Cuban defector Alay Soler proves to be the real deal.

No matter. For the moment, Bannister is finally alone in the spotlight.

"He's probably our closest guy," said Kevin Morgan, the Mets' director of minor league operations. "I think, with Brian, the package he brings to the table right now, he's the best prospect and the closest prospect as far as making an impact at the big league level."

"I've always been a late bloomer," Bannister admits. "I knew I had the mental aspect of the game pretty well handled, but this year it came together with my physical game."

The son of former major league pitcher Floyd Bannister, the 24-year-old brings a big-league pedigree to the table, though he projects far differently from his father (for one thing, Bannister uses his right hand; for another, he won't sniff 98 MPH on the radar gun).

Those who have played with and behind Bannister rave about his on-field skill sets and level head; those who have spoken with Bannister come away impressed with his thoughtful and bright persona.

"He's so smart," said Chase Lambin, a teammate at Binghamton and Norfolk last year. "He's cerebral. He doesn't have anything that's electric, but he moves it in and out, and does everything you want a pitcher to do. He's extremely intelligent and he takes pride in the fine art of pitching."

"He's very polished, on and off the field," said Kevin Czerwinski, a reporter for MinorLeagueBaseball.com. "I think he'll be like Bobby Jones - a good fifth starter who'll win 10 or 12 games a year. He'll have a nice solid career."

Bannister raised his stock exponentially through the 2005 campaign by rocketing to a 9-4 start at Double-A Binghamton, posting a 2.56 ERA in 18 starts and earning a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk in July.

With the Tides, Bannister didn't disappoint, faring 4-1 with a 3.18 ERA in eight starts down the stretch as Norfolk competed for a Governor's Cup title. Owning a won-loss record just marginally above .500 before the 2005 season, a major reason for Bannister's improvement was developing of a cut fastball, which complemented his 12-to-6 curveball and changeup.

"Adding the cutter allowed me to give batters another look," Bannister said. "To me, it's more of a backwards sinker to give me that little wrinkle. When I threw the cutter, a guy would roll over on the pitch instead of hitting it sharp."

A fine arts major at USC who used his signing bonus to start his own photography studio, Loft 19, on the side, Bannister certainly fits into the studious mold. And though his business venture is a success – the company has worked with major players like Nike Golf, ESPN The Magazine and Wal-Mart – Bannister brings the same thoughtful nature to his pitching process.

Scott Lauber, who covered Bannister for the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, recalls a June 1 start against the Akron Aeros in Binghamton. It was Bannister's third time facing the Indians' Double-A team in 2005, and though he'd beaten Akron in both of the previous contests, Bannister suspected the Akron hitters might be starting to sit on his change-up.

On his way to the dugout, Bannister pulled catcher Joe Hietpas aside and informed his backstop that the change-up was off-limits for the day – a late audible, unbeknownst to the B-Mets' coaching staff. Using mostly curveballs and fastballs, Bannister carved up Akron a third time, allowing one run over six innings and striking out eight.

"When you can take one of your pitches and just put it on the shelf for the day, that means you have a few pretty good pitches," Lauber said. "I don't think hitters are going to be able to out-think him."

"He's not going to give up the house," Lambin said. "He's not going to give up the big inning; he's not going to lose his composure. We know we're going to be in the game and we've got a good chance to win. That's the kind of guy you want."

Figuring to begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk, Bannister should be in the Mets' big-league clubhouse during spring training, as the organization gave Bannister a vote of confidence by adding him to their 40-man roster.

Though the Mets have a glut of starting pitching at the big league level, Bannister hopes he can open eyes and be in the mix for a September call-up to Shea Stadium, if not sooner.

"I've never gotten to pitch in front of the big league coaches, so that'll be nice in spring training," Bannister said. "I'm not expecting to be given a spot in the Mets' rotation or anything. I just want to improve on my year this past season.

"They say Double-A makes or breaks you, and that Triple-A is where you mature. If I'm back at Triple-A, I just want to prepare myself so that when I get my shot, I'm there to stay. I want to develop all my weaknesses so I can become a successful major leaguer and not just a guy that got there."

Year

Team

W-L

IP

Hits

BB

K

ERA

2005

Norfolk

4-1

45.1

48

13

48

3.18

2005

Binghamton

9-4

109.0

91

27

94

2.56

2004

Binghamton

3-3

44.1

45

17

28

4.06

2004

St. Lucie

5-7

110.1

111

27

106

4.32

2003

Brooklyn

4-1

46.0

27

18

42

2.15



Repertoire. Fastball, Curveball, Changeup, Cutter/Slider.

Fastball. Bannister has a very good fastball which averages 89-92 MPH. The majority of his fastballs are 4-seam fastballs. While a lot of the pundits point to Bannister's velocity with his fastball as a negative, the truth of the matter is that he can throw his fastball harder if need be. While the radar gun might not show a power arm, Bannister sacrifices a couple of ticks on the radar gun in order to gain more control. Bannister is able to locate his fastball and when opposing batters lean out over the plate, he'll bust batters inside to keep them honest.

Other Pitches. A year ago we mentioned that Bannister was adding a slider that acted more like a cut-fastball that many scouts believed would take him to the next level. Now a year later, Bannister's cutter has in fact made him one of the Mets' top pitching prospects. Throwing his cutter 86-89 MPH, it has sharp and quick lateral movement as it approaches the plate and Bannister wants to get batters to hit his cutter and harmlessly roll over on it and put it in play. While his cutter has solidified his repertoire, it is Bannister's true 12-6 curveball that is his out pitch. He throws a tight curveball in the 78-80 MPH range with a sharp break. Bannister compliments his repertoire with an occasional changeup that is more like a palm ball that goes away on lefties and in on righties. He uses his changeup to set up the batters by getting them out in front before pounding them inside with fastballs and outside with his curveball and cutter.

Pitching. Bannister is an extremely intelligent pitcher on the mound. He has a plan for every batter that steps into the box and he mixes up his pitches with the best of them. With a better than three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, Bannister is a control pitcher. Now armed with a tremendous cut-fastball, Bannister is not afraid to let hitters make contact and allow his defense behind him to make the plays. He owns a plus curveball and when it is on, it is truly devastating. Whenever you see Bannister's box scores and if there's a high number of strikeouts, that means his curveball was working well for him that night. The addition of his cut-fastball has allowed him to have another weapon on the night's his curveball isn't as effective, which is a reason for the breakout year in 2005. With a professional demeanor on the mound, Bannister has a stoic disposition and is unflappable in pressure situations.

Projection. Even before the Mets traded away heralded pitchers Yusmeiro Petit and Gaby Hernandez, internally, they believed Bannister was their top pitching prospect. He doesn't have the electric stuff of a frontline starting pitcher at the Major League level but he's going to be a very solid middle of the rotation type of starter for the Mets. While he doesn't litter the radar gun with high-90's fastballs, Bannister does have a strong arm and he's matured physically to become quite durable. Seemingly having been pitching with a chip on his shoulder since being drafted out of USC, Bannister has been out to prove all of critics wrong. It is that edge that makes him a winning pitcher.

ETA. 2006. Bannister is ready for the Major Leagues right now. It is that reason that the Mets felt comfortable dealing Jae Seo to the Dodgers and the reason why Kris Benson's name was bandied about in trade rumors all winter long. With a strong Spring Training, he could possibly find his way into the Mets' rotation to start the 2006 season, but the more probable scenario has him filling the same role as Jae Seo from a year ago. Bannister will most likey begin the year as the ace of the Norfolk Tides and be the Mets' first option should the need for a starter arise due to injury or trade.

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