TORONTO – After three starts in triple-A and all of 35 innings in the minor leagues, Alek Manoah’s about to face his biggest challenge yet.
As first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and confirmed by industry sources to Sportsnet, the Blue Jays intend to promote Manoah to pitch against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday in what would otherwise have been a bullpen game.
Clearly, there’s a need for quality pitching on a Blue Jays team that was just swept by the Tampa Bay Rays on its way to a sixth-consecutive loss. Yet along with the need for rotation help, there's also a developmental case to be made for promoting a pitcher who had dominated at triple-A.
In his first start, he struck out 12 while allowing just two hits. In his second outing, he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning while holding the opposition scoreless. And in his third, he struck out 10 while allowing just one run.
Of course, all pitchers, even those in the major leagues, can work on improving aspects of their game. And when asked what Manoah can work on, GM Ross Atkins pointed to command, increased change-up usage and using his breaking ball when behind in counts. Not that it would be realistic to expect a fully polished pitcher after just nine professional appearances.
“His fastball is such an effective weapon that he has to challenge himself against certain hitters to use his entire arsenal,” Atkins said last weekend. “Controlling the running game he does very well. Fielding his position he does very well. So yes, there are things that he can work on in triple-A.”
Yet at 23 years old, Manoah’s nearly two years removed from being a college draft pick and what the Blue Jays see from the right-hander between starts encourages then, too. Atkins describes Manoah’s off-field, between starts routine as ‘incredible’ and ‘exceptionally encouraging.’
“The objective and subjective views of how effective he will be at the major league level are all really encouraging,” Atkins added at the time.
The Blue Jays selected Manoah with the 11th overall pick in the 2019 draft and signed him for a $4.55 million bonus. Soon after the deal became official, the team assigned him to Vancouver, where he pitched to a 2.65 ERA in six starts while averaging 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
The pandemic-shortened 2020 season cost Manoah the chance to pitch in more minor-league games, but he tested himself against fellow Blue Jays minor-leaguers at the team’s alternate site before spending the winter working out at the Miami-area gym he co-founded with his brother, Erik.
Now, he’ll test his upper-90’s fastball, slider and change-up against one of the best lineups in baseball, taking the place of Anthony Kay, who was optioned to the minors over the weekend. The Blue Jays will require a 40-man roster spot to create room for Manoah, who will become the first member of their 2019 draft class to reach the majors.