TORONTO – Two years ago this time, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was posting impressive triple-A numbers despite defensive issues at third base and a conditioning regimen that left much to be desired, Blue Jays decision makers cautioned that he still had work to do.
Gaudy offensive numbers or not, his development wasn’t complete and it’s a lesson worth keeping in mind for any prospect with impressive minor-league stats. The numbers are one of the best indicators of readiness available, but they aren’t the only one and it’s by discounting little warning signs that teams can expose young players to the majors before they’re fully ready.
So what about Alek Manoah? On the field, the results speak for themselves. Facing the Worcester Red Sox Wednesday, Manoah was dominant for the third start in a row, allowing just four hits and one walk compared to 10 strikeouts while throwing 94 pitches and allowing his first earned run of the season.
But every pitcher, even those in the major leagues, can work on improving aspects of their game. Clearly, that applies to Manoah, who has pitched all of 35 professional innings since being selected in the first round of the 2019 draft. So do the Blue Jays see these remaining steps as major obstacles, or are we talking more about refinement here?
“There’s always something,” GM Ross Atkins said a few days before Manoah’s latest outing. “Even the best of the best. And for sure, he could be better with command. He could probably be better with change-up usage. Using his breaking ball in different counts and behind in counts. His fastball is such an effective weapon that he has to challenge himself against certain hitters to use his entire arsenal.
“Controlling the running game he does very well. Fielding his position he does very well,” Atkins continued. “So yes, there are things that he can work on in triple-A.”
After just three starts at that level, it would be stunning if Manoah’s game did not need attention in some ways. But Atkins isn’t talking about Manoah as though he’s a long ways off, either. He describes Manoah’s off-field, between starts routine as ‘incredible’ and ‘exceptionally encouraging.’
Compare that to what Atkins said about Guerrero Jr. in the months leading up to his debut – “I just don't see him as a major league player” – and a sharp contrast emerges. If the Blue Jays have reservations about Manoah’s readiness, they are hiding them pretty well.
Even so, emotional decision making won’t help the Blue Jays here, as Shi Davidi fairly points out. Whenever they call Manoah up, two conditions would ideally be met: he should help the big-league team win games immediately and promotion should also further his long-term development. The decision won’t be made because Ross Stripling had a rough outing and the hype is building.
Thankfully, service time will not be a consideration at this time of year. Whether Manoah debuts next week, on the last day of the season or anywhere in between, the Blue Jays will control his rights through the 2027 season. That key variable is not shifting one way or another.
And while a call-up in the next month or so would increase the chances of Manoah becoming a super-two player who earns more in arbitration, that’s a risk a team with the Blue Jays’ resources should be able to accept without hesitation if he’s ready for the challenge and can help this team win now.
So can he? Triple-A hitters would certainly suggest he can. And beyond the results, the Blue Jays like the information they’ve gathered on Manoah behind the scenes.
“The objective and subjective views of how effective he will be at the major league level are all really encouraging,” Atkins said.
None of that means the Blue Jays have to call him up Monday, his next turn in the rotation. A fourth or fifth or sixth start at triple-A might help Manoah refine his game further without the added pressure of retiring major-league hitters. There could be some benefit to that.
But all things considered, we’re looking at a 23-year-old pitcher who’s excelling on the field and impressing off of it. It’s been nearly two years since the Blue Jays drafted him out of college and he’s now pitching better than ever at the highest level of the minors.
If Manoah’s next start is in the major leagues, that would be a perfectly reasonable choice, too.