First Impressions: SP Alek Manoah

First Impressions: SP Alek Manoah

Written by: Danny Hacker
Follow him on Twitter:@theGREATdanny94
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter:@ProspectsWorldW

While the Blue Jays came into today’s doubleheader a game over .500, they still are sitting at 4th place in the AL East behind the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees and are trying to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Between inconsistent pitching performances and injuries, the Blue Jays finally decided to call up top pitching prospect Alek Manoah to make his MLB debut against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Manoah is ranked the 6th best prospect overall, and the 3rd pitcher, in the Blue Jays system per the Prospect Worldwide 2020 Rankings of their system.

Alek Manoah was the 11th Overall Pick in the 2019 MLB Draft out of West Virginia and at the time, I really wasn’t a big fan of him; I never really understood the hype. However, he proceeded to mow down A ball hitters posting a 2.65 ERA, 27K, 5BB and a 1.059 WHIP in 17.0 IP (6 starts). As Manoah was getting ready to start a breakout 2020 season, COVID-19 happened and wiped out the entire MiLB season . He continued to get a lot of work at the Alternate Site and reports were saying he was incredibly impressive and progressing the way the team would like him to. To start 2021, he was placed in AAA and through 3 starts, was nearly untouchable posting a 0.50 ERA, 27K, 3BB and a 0.556 WHIP in 18.0 IP. That convinced the Blue Jays, and myself, that he was ready and legitimately a fantastic pitching prospect.

Manoah has a four-pitch mix which consists of a mid to high 90s mph Fastball, a mid to low 90s Sinker, a Slider which is considered his best secondary pitch (and one he learned thanks to PitchingNinja), and a Changeup which has always been the distinct last pitch and not as highly regarded. His Command/Control is plus and he demonstrated as such throughout his MiLB career and at the training site.

The Line: 6.0, 0ER, 0R, 2H, 7K, 2BB on 88 pitches (60 for strikes or 68%) and a 35% CSW%

The Pitch Breakdown:

Pitch:Number/%CSW%Avg VeloSpin Rate
4 Seam Fastball30 (34%)40%94.9 mph2,475 RPM
Slider26 (30%)31%82.4 mph2,367 RPM
Sinker19 (22%)37%94.5 mph2,280 RPM
Changeup13 (15%)31%89.3 mph2,242 RPM

The thing I noticed pretty early on, along with the rest of the outing, that I wanted to mention before anything else is that Manoah really mixed his pitches all together early on. Unlike Daniel Lynch and Logan Gilbert (two very recent debuts) who relied on solely their Fastballs to get established early on and throughout, Manoah was throwing everything he had consistently and effectively. Other than the first at bat of a four pitch all Fastball walk (which, to me, was pure nerves), he never looked back. It’s something that doesn’t seem to happen a lot in debuts and young pitchers don’t seem to trust their stuff as much seemingly. However, that wasn’t the case for Manoah at all yesterday.

Manoah’s 4 seam fastball was thrown 34% of the time as shown above and was sitting around 94-95 mph all day long. Manoah made me really nervous initially, throwing 4 straight fastballs to DJ LeMahieu that resulted in a lead-off walk. After that, he settled in and started throwing everything else along with the fastball. He got Aaron Judge to sit on his slider for two straight pitches, the second which induced the latest swing on a pitch I’ve seen in a while. 97 mph to strike him out. Throughout the outing, the velocity really never waved and he was throwing 95 consistently in the 5th inning. In the 6th it dipped a little bit but still never really lost control/command of it. The pitch had a 40% CSW% which is really good and he threw it in all quadrants of the zone to keep hitters truly at bay. The pitch lived up to its hype and other than the first at-bat of the game, it was really working well.

Manoah also uses a sinker very distinctively to separate from the 4 seam fastball and it was used a lot yesterday to try and “steal” some strikes in the zone. It generated 5 called strikes but it was the only one of Manoah’s pitches to not get a strikeout on. It has the same velocity as the 4 seam fastball but it carries about 200 RPM less spin on it and differentiates from the 4 seam fastball in terms of horizontal and vertical movement. It’s a pitch you should still see quite a bit from him as he mixes all his pitches pretty consistently.

Manoah’s slider is his best secondary pitch and it surely was on display in this outing as it was thrown 30% of the time. He got three strikeouts via the pitch and it sat pretty consistently at 81-82 mph all afternoon. The pitch displayed incredible horizontal movement that was 5.1″ of break more than the average slider and he controlled it very well throughout the outing. The pitch’s spin rate is pretty consistent with the average slider but again, the movement on the pitch is what really makes it unique. He got a beautiful called strike on it versus Mike Ford in the 2nd inning and got Odor swinging through one in the zone in the 3rd. It really never wavered throughout the outing and he didn’t use it as a crutch, he mixed it pretty fairly and consistently with the fastball. It’s definitely the plus pitch that people rave about when it comes to Manoah.

The distinct “third” pitch of Manoah’s arsenal is a changeup that a lot of people were unsure about coming into this year and this outing. It has always been graded and evaluated far behind the fastball and slider but it sure looked pretty good compared to its counterparts in his debut. He got his first career strikeout on a nasty changeup to Odor in the first inning which ended up being the only strikeout he got on the day on it. However, that doesn’t mean it was any less effective. Manoah’s confidence in the pitch was something I really loved to see right off the getgo and he used it often. He got three whiffs on it and while he didn’t get many called strikes on it, it still was effective in throwing hitters off timing-wise to foul them off. Only one of the 13 changeups he threw was put into play and it was a flyout from Mike Ford. I would love to see Manoah continue to throw this pitch as much as he did in the future and it could end up even being a better pitch than most people even thought it would be.

Manoah’s control/command has always been something people have loved about him and it continued to be a strong point in his debut. Other than the first inning lead off walk and a walk in the 6th, Manoah had no real issues at all with locating his pitches and throwing them where he wanted to. He mixed his pitches very well as noted above and he threw them all for strikes which is a great thing of course. He didn’t really struggle with it at all and there’s honestly not too much more to say about it other than it was very strong. Impressive and hopefully it will continue to stay that way as he progresses through the majors.

Something I noted with Logan Gilbert’s outing is something I now want to note with every First Impressions I do and that is a pitcher’s release point. With Gilbert’s outing, his release point was pretty distinctively different for all three of his pitches which might result in some tipping down the line. With Manoah, there is no real worry about any distinctive different release points at all. Everything was generally very consistent and he was able to tunnel his slider, sinker, and changeup with his 4 seam fastball in order to confuse hitters like Aaron Judge in the first inning with two really bad swings at fastballs. Manoah’s mechanics are very consistent and it doesn’t look like he labors much at all to consistently throw strikes and tunnel them off each other. It’s another great thing about the outing and not anything to worry about moving forward.

All in all, I was very impressed with Alek Manoah’s MLB debut vs the Yankees. From the Odor strikeout to the end of the 6th inning, It was a completely dominant showcase of pitching. I now am an Alek Manoah fan after not being one initially during the draft. From his work in the minors to this outing, I am more impressed every time he steps out there. The Blue Jays have three pitching prospects of the future that could dominate the AL East for a long time in the forms of Manoah, Simeon Woods Richardson, and Nate Pearson. I can’t wait to watch his next outing, which surely will be at the major league level, and watch him grow as a starting pitcher. There is some serious ace potential here when it’s all said and done and he no doubt could be an SP1 for any team at his ceiling. While there will certainly be ups, downs, and bumps in the road for Manoah, the future is incredibly bright for him and I am really excited to watch it unfold.

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