Brace yourselves, Whitecaps fans: Manning is coming. Righthander Matt Manning, the Detroit Tigers’ top prospect according to MLB.com, has been promoted from short-season Connecticut to the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps. Manning, 19, was the Tigers’ first round draft pick in 2016, the ninth overall selection.
Those following the Tigers’ farm system were disappointed when Manning started the 2017 season in extended spring training. Previous Tigers first round picks have typically started at West Michigan, with a few rare exceptions (Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander) got started even higher up the organizational ladder. However, Manning isn’t quite as experienced as those pitchers — he only spent two years on the mound in high school — and the Tigers believed he would benefit more from that concentrated instruction.
Manning was the opening day starter for the Connecticut Tigers, Detroit’s short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League. He was 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA in nine starts for Connecticut, and managed 36 strikeouts to 14 walks in 33 1⁄3 innings. He only gave up 27 hits in those 33 1⁄3 innings — and zero home runs — resulting in a 1.23 WHIP.
Manning’s arrival will help bolster the Whitecaps rotation as they prepare for a playoff run. They are an astounding 73-32 this season, a .695 winning percentage. They have already clinched a playoff berth, having topped the Eastern Division in the first half, and are well on their way to clinching a second half division crown as well.
While some prospect hounds consider 2017 first round pick Alex Faedo as the top talent in the Tigers’ system at present, we ranked Manning No. 1 in the organization prior to the 2017 season. His large frame, easy delivery, and mid-90s fastball give him top-of-the-rotation potential if everything clicks.
Those tools to dream on are quite clear. Manning’s fastball grades as plus — sometimes double plus, or 70 grade — sitting at 93-95 miles per hour and touching 98 at times. As he develops, he could even gain a bit more velocity. He adds a spike curveball that sits in the upper 70s with sharp 11-5 movement. It is currently an average pitch with a chance to become plus with work.
Manning will be taking the place of lefthander Gregory Soto, who was promoted to High-A Lakeland. Soto, 22, is 10-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 18 starts for the Whitecaps this season. He struck out 116 hitters in 96 innings, but also walked 54. He is MLB.com’s No. 11 Tigers prospect.