The Blue Jays are loading up on big arms. With an emphasis on big and hard-throwing.
On Monday, the team used the 11th overall pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft on Alek Manoah, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound right-handed pitcher from West Virginia.
Just two years ago, the team selected Nate Pearson in the first round and the a 6-foot-6, 245-pound righty has wowed observers with his heavy fastball ever since.
In Manoah, the Jays have landed another power arm, one that has a fastball topping out at 97 mph, put complements that heat with a slider and change up.
“We see him as a big, strong, durable guy who has the chance to take the ball every five days in a major-league rotation,” Blue Jays director of amateur scouting Steve Sanders said on Monday night.
“The combination of his stuff and his athleticism, his command and his makeup … we’re confident of who he is as a person and the work he puts in on and off the field to reach his ceiling as a major-league starter.”
As with the majority of players selected on Monday, that ascent is expected to take some time for the 21-year-old Florida native — if he makes it at all.
But the Jays have had their eye on Manoah since his high-school days in Miami and Sanders said the big kid with the big arm took a big leap forward last summer playing for the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League.
“We had a good look at him in the Cape Cod League and he improved (noticeably),” Sanders said of a summer in which he had 48 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. “He put himself firmly on the radar for this year. What we really liked is that he really blossomed towards the middle and end of the spring and finished strong.
“The more we watched him, the more we liked him.”
Sanders was quick to deflect potential concerns about Manoah’s size and the suggestion by some draft observers that he is a one-dimensional arm. The Jays scouting staff was confident that Manoah is both athletic and versatile enough to continue on the path towards being an MLB starter.
“Alek is a big guy, but he’s tremendously athletic,” Sanders said of Manoah, who had a streak of 34.1 scoreless innings in Big 12 play this season. “He’s done a great job getting himself into real good shape. For a guy his size, he’s got tremendous feel. He’s not just a power pitcher. He’s got the ability to command three pitches for strikes.”
“At the major-league level, pitchers come in all shape or sizes. Different sizes and different playing weights work different for different guys.”
Organizationally, the Jays have a clear need for pitching help, arguably the weakest link in their prospect pool.
Sanders maintained (as he did prior to the draft) that the team would not select for need but by best player available. In baseball, more than any other entry draft, that’s the obvious route to go considering the long journey to the big leagues that usually follows.
But with position players taking up nine of the first 10 selections — led by the Baltimore Orioles selections college catcher Adley Rutschman — the Jays’ draft board had Manoah’s name ready and waiting. Power pitchers can by eye-catching, but it’s just coincidence that the Jays have landed on one with their first-round selection in two of the three years Sanders has been running the show.
“We staked the board up and were ready to take the best player available to us and that’s what we did,” Sanders said of the Big 12 pitcher of the year for 2019. “We came into the draft prepared for anything to happen and we are thrilled with the way the board broke.”
Manoah is expected to collect a signing bonus in the $4.5-million US range.
The Jays’ newest first-rounder gathered with family and teammates and when MLB Network cameras caught him, Manoah was clearly emotional. Later he tweeted his gratitude to his soon-to-be employer.
“Thank you for believing in me!” Manoah wrote on his official Twitter account. “Off to the 6.”
Sanders and his staff clearly saw upside in Manoah, especially after he developed into a full-time starter with the Mountaineers in his sophomore season. In his 108.1 innings in 2019, Manoah had glimpses of domination, as he recorded 144 strikeouts against just 27 walks with an impressive ERA of 2.08.
Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz said Manoah will bring more than just a big arm to wherever he lands within the Jays organization.
“He pitches with so much emotion that you can be assured that wherever he pitches, you’re going to get a guy who puts everything he has into his craft,” Smoltz said on the MLB Network. “He has an athletic delivery with his fastball. As the future unfolds, the ability to bring along a third pitch will be the key.”
Undrafted out of high school, Manoah continued to hone his craft at West Virginia. While the young prospect always had power, Sanders believes his command sharpened in 2019 due to a key adjustment in his mechanics.
“He simplified his delivery this year which helped him repeat and improve his command and not just with his fastball,” Sanders said. “He improved on last season in a number of ways.”
As with all MLB draft picks, the Jays won’t even hint at a timeline for his move up through the ranks. But it’s clear Sanders believes Manoah is already well on his way.
“We certainly hope he is someone who can move quickly, but he’s going to move at his own pace,” Sanders said. “We’re excited to see someone with Alek’s upside and ability to be there at this pick.”
With their second-round pick (52nd overall) in the MLB draft, the Blue Jays selected another big pitcher, right-hander Kendall Williams, another 6-foot-6 pitcher from the IMG Academy in Florida. Williams is currently committed to attend Vanderbilt University.
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