LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez watched Manny Banuelos throw on Friday, he gained the sense the young left-hander might indeed be able to return to the promise he showed before a troublesome pitching elbow became a problem again last year.
"He threw a bullpen [session], and it was about as good of a bullpen as I've seen him throw," Gonzalez said after Braves pitchers and catchers completed their first workout of the spring on Saturday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex.
Banuelos did not allow more than one earned run in any of the first three starts he made after making his Major League debut on July 2. But after he began experiencing elbow discomfort in late July, he was placed on the disabled list for a little more than a month. Two more disappointing starts after being activated simply set him up to have a bone spur removed from his left elbow on Sept. 17.
There is certainly reason to be concerned about the durability of Banuelos' elbow. His days as a top prospect in the Yankees' system were blemished after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and missed all of the '13 season. He was carefully handled while completing just 76 1/3 innings in the Yankees' system in '14.
But if Banuelos is healthy, he certainly has the capability to prove impressive enough to win one of the two available spots in the Braves' rotation. He combined to complete just 110 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett and Atlanta last year and thus would likely be placed on an innings limit this year. But this would not necessarily be a problem, as the Braves would like to eventually bring some of their top pitching prospects to the rotation at some point this year.
Odds and ends
• Mike Foltynewicz might eventually position himself to grab one of those rotation spots, but he remains approximately two weeks behind schedule as he attempts to regain the strength he lost after a portion of a rib was removed when he was diagnosed with a blood clot in September.
• Looking to create a bond between players that could be spending a lot of time together over the next few years, the Braves are having each of their top four prospects share a locker. Dansby Swanson is paired with fellow shortstop Ozzie Albies, and Sean Newcomb is paired with fellow pitcher Aaron Blair. The locker Tyrell Jenkins and Mallex Smith are sharing is located next to Michael Bourn, who will help Smith further his development as a center fielder.
• Bobby Cox watched a portion of Saturday's workout with Ted Simmons, who will serve as a Major League scout for the Braves this year. Cox was Atlanta's general manager when Simmons concluded his 21-season big league career by serving as a Braves catcher from 1986-88.