Blue Jays betting on Manoah’s rapid progress with 1st-round selection

The Toronto Blue Jays used their first round pick on righty Alek Manoah in the 2019 MLB Draft. Courtesy MLB.

TORONTO – Just a few weeks after last year’s draft, the player who’d become the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2019 first-rounder started making a strong impression on his future team.

At the time, Alek Manoah was far from a sure thing. He wasn’t drafted out of high school, and he had split his first two seasons at West Virginia between the bullpen and the rotation. But when Manoah led the Cape Cod league in strikeouts last summer, the Blue Jays took note.

“He really put himself firmly on the radar,” recalled amateur scouting director Steve Sanders.

Less than a year later, the Blue Jays made Manoah the 11th overall pick, betting that the progress he showed over the last calendar year hints at future success in a big-league rotation.

Listed at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, Manoah has a fastball in the 94-97 m.p.h. range that misses lots of bats and a hard slider that Baseball America projects as a second plus pitch. The combination was evidently tough on college hitters, as Manoah posted a 2.08 ERA with 144 strikeouts compared to just 27 walks in 108.1 innings this season.

All the while, the Blue Jays were watching. Area scout Coulson Barbiche and regional cross-checker Michael Youngberg helped identify Manoah as a player worth targeting ahead of Monday’s selection.

“What we really liked was Alek continued to get better over the course of the spring,” Sanders said. “He really blossomed toward the end of the spring and finished strong. The more we watched him, the more we liked him.”

Best-case scenario, the Blue Jays develop Manoah into a durable major-league starting pitcher. While he’s bigger than most starters, there’s certainly no single template for starters’ bodies if Chris Sale, Marcus Stroman and CC Sabathia can all succeed at once.

“Alek’s a big guy, but he’s tremendously athletic,” Sanders said. “He’s done a great job getting himself into really good shape. He hauled a lot of innings this year and maintained extremely high-level stuff from wire to wire. That’s something that a big, durable frame will help him do.

“We see him as a big, strong, durable guy that has the chance to take the ball every five days in a major-league rotation.”

The Blue Jays have a total draft bonus pool of $8,463,300 thanks in large part to the $4,547,500 recommended for Toronto’s first-round pick.

Contributing to the optimism around Manoah, the Blue Jays consider him more than a power pitcher. Soon after selecting the right-hander, Sanders praised his command, feel for pitching and ability to make adjustments. While Manoah uses his fastball and slider most heavily, the Blue Jays project his change-up as a plus pitch, too.

“It’s really not that far behind,” Sanders said. “We really feel good that it’s a well-rounded three-pitch mix now that really should only continue to get better.”

This is the third year on the job for Sanders, who took over from Brian Parker in the fall of 2016. Back in 2017, Sanders chose Logan Warmoth and Nate Pearson in the first round. Last year the Blue Jays went with Jordan Groshans, a high school shortstop.

By selecting a pitcher this year, the Blue Jays took a step toward addressing their most pressing organizational need. Between injuries (Ryan Borucki, T.J. Zeuch) and disappointing performances (Sean Reid-Foley, Hector Perez) the Blue Jays’ young arms haven’t come along as much as the club would have liked.

Still, that need for arms didn’t nudge the Blue Jays toward Manoah. They simply like what he does on the mound.

“We are committed to taking the best player available,” Sanders said. “In this draft, it happened to be a college pitcher. We’re excited about what Alek brings to the table and certainly hope that he’s somebody that can move quickly, but he’s going to move at his own pace. Different guys determine their own timelines.”

A look at the Blue Jays’ current roster offers a reminder of just how long most draft picks need to become big leaguers. Even rookies such as Rowdy Tellez, Danny Jansen and Jonathan Davis were drafted in 2013–six years ago.

Granted, that trio was drafted out of high school, but college players like Cavan Biggio and Trent Thornton still needed three and four minor-league seasons, respectively. With timelines that long, there’s no telling what the Blue Jays will or won’t need by the time this year’s picks reach the majors.

But of course no team ever has enough impact arms. If Manoah reaches the potential Sanders sees, the Blue Jays will have no trouble finding room for him.

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