SEATTLE – Two years ago, Alek Manoah arrived at spring training as an interesting pitching prospect with 17 professional innings in six low-A starts under his belt. Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of college, he had the potential to move through the system quickly until the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled by the pandemic, seemingly stalling his progress.
Instead, he accelerated his timeline at the club’s alternate training site, arriving at camp last year as an on-the-verge wild-card and all he’s done since is establish himself as one of the game’s top pitchers, rewarded Sunday with his selection to the American League All-Star Team.
Quite the rocket-ship ascent for the 24-year-old. How does he process all that’s happened in such a short time?
“That's a good question,” said Manoah, who’s posted a 2.34 ERA in 107.2 innings over 17 starts with 97 strikeouts and only 25 walks this season. “Just get on my knees and I pray about it, to be honest with you. Most of the stuff that's happening to me is kind of surreal, especially coming from where I come from. Just to be able to have these opportunities, to be able to enjoy them and not just for me, but for my family as well as, is pretty amazing.”
Manoah was selected for the July 19 Midsummer Classic at Dodger Stadium through the player vote along with teammate George Springer, who is an all-star for a fourth time. They join Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Alejandro Kirk, who were elected starters through the fan vote.
Montoyo broke the news to both players Sunday morning, letting Springer know as he was eating breakfast and calling Manoah into his office. On Saturday night, after the right-hander allowed two runs over 7.1 dominant innings, “he spoke to me on the on the bench a little bit, just telling me it was a pleasure to be my manager and to coach me and he feels confident every time he gives me the ball,” Manoah relayed.
“(Sunday) morning, he brought me into the office and at first I was like, am I in trouble? I just went to sleep last night,” he continued. “Then he kind of started by saying the same thing, he's super grateful to be able to manage me and then he said, 'I'm even more proud, to be able to tell you this, that you're an all-star.' I was super shocked, like, 'How the hell do you know, already?' It was a pretty cool moment.”
For Springer, the emotions were different even if the honour was similarly rewarding.
“There's a lot to be proud of, I think,” he said of his season thus far. “Obviously, these last couple of weeks haven't been the way that I would want them to go. But that's the game right there. I can be proud of being pretty consistent throughout the year. I still believe I can be a lot better. And hopefully I will.”
The centre-fielder, who headed into Sunday’s action with an .807 OPS after a recent cold spell, called his selection “a good surprise on a Sunday morning” although whether he plays in the game or not wasn’t immediately clear.
Springer has been managing elbow soreness for weeks now while also fighting through baseball’s usual wear and tear, so it’s possible he takes a miss on the festivities.
“I’ll cross that bridge once I get to it,” he said. “Obviously, our team is the most important, so I'll make that decision as we get closer but I'm just excited about today.”
Manoah called his family to share the news and there were plenty of emotions for him. He felt the all-star selection was like a pat on the back for what he’s accomplished so far and to continue pushing on his current path.
He’s determined to pitch in the game, throwing to Kirk, and “I think the schedules line up where I'll be able to throw in the game. I haven't talked to Pete (Walker, the Blue Jays pitching coach) or anything so I don't know if I'm saying anything too early, but I definitely want to want to be on that mound.”
As for who he’s most excited to meet, he immediately pointed to Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera as “the first two on the top of my list.”
“I've had the chance to speak with Miggy when we played Detroit and stuff like that. But when we went to St Louis, I never got a chance to talk to Albert,” he said. “Those are two guys that me and my brother used to watch growing up all the time and used to dream of playing against them or being like them and all that stuff. Definitely think it will be awesome, hopefully, I can get a picture with them.”