While the Detroit Tigers finished in last place in 2015, they received several consolation prizes at the trade deadline, including near-major league ready prospects Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, JaCoby Jones, and some guy named Micheal Fulmer. Two months later, their 74-87 record "awarded" them the ninth overall pick in the 2016 MLB amateur draft, with which they selected right-handed pitcher Matt Manning.
While he may seem like a fairly two-dimensional prospect to us Tigers fans -- more on that in a minute -- he is good enough to merit attention from MLB.com. In their midseason prospect rankings, they placed him at No. 81 overall and first in the Tigers' system. Of note: Manning's ranking is only one spot behind Oakland Athletics lefthander A.J. Puk, who was widely considered a legitimate candidate to be taken with the first overall pick.
While Manning might not have been the perfect choice -- an opinion I expressed prior to the draft in classic third-grader form -- there was no such thing in this draft class. There was no Mike Trout, no Bryce Harper, and no surefire future superstar. The most Tigers fans could have hoped for is the best infusion of talent into the system, and the Tigers' brass decided Manning was that player when they were on the clock.
Many scouts agree with the Tigers' pick, and hold a higher opinion of Manning than I do. Mike Axisa of River Avenue Blues gives a good explanation why.
Manning is the classic "dream big" high school pitcher. He’s an excellent athlete with a loose arm who did not start pitching full-time until his junior year. During that time he’s upped his fastball from 87-89 mph into the 92-94 mph range, and the heater plays faster because he gets so much extension. He’s run his fastball as high as 96-97 mph in short outings during showcase events. Manning can spin a hard curveball in the upper-70s but the pitch lacks consistency.
One of the big concerns surrounding Manning is pretty standard for pitchers in the Tigers organization: developing an effective, or even usable changeup. Manning's lack of a good changeup is excusable. It is something most high schoolers don't need, and therefore don't use. However, as a professional, a starter must have a changeup to keep hitters off his fastball, no matter how electric.
So far this season, Manning has pitched 14 1/3 innings over five starts, posting a middling 4.40 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, but a monstrous 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings and an equally impressive 1.91 walks per nine.