Strangely, there are only a couple of pitchers mentioned as potential top 10 picks in the 2019 MLB draft class. This is generally unheard of, as most classes see several top arms considered for top-10 selection, many of which could go as high as first overall. The Detroit Tigers were linked with a pair of talented righthanders last year before they eventually selected Casey Mize with the No. 1 pick.
While this year’s class of arms is thin on premium talent, there are still a couple of pitchers that should go in the top 10. One of them, West Virginia righthander Alek Manoah, has even been linked to the Tigers; ESPN’s Keith Law mentioned Detroit’s interest in Manoah last week, before eventually dropping the big righty down to 11th in his first mock draft.
Is Manoah legitimately in the mix to go fifth overall? Or are the Tigers just doing their due diligence on the top prospects in this year’s class before they go in another direction? There is still plenty of time for things to change before the draft, so the mock drafts you are seeing now — some in which Manoah occasionally falls out of the top 10 — are bound to change. And Detroit’s history of grabbing big, hard-throwing pitchers on draft day will certainly follow them any time they show interest in one.
In other words, don’t tear your hair out just because he is a pitcher.
School: West Virginia
Draft day age: 21
MLB Pipeline draft prospect rank: 10
Previously drafted: N/A
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: RHP Alek Manoah
Manoah looks the part of a frontline starter, standing 6’6 and weighing 270 pounds, and has the fastball to match. His heater sits in the mid-90s, reaching as high as 98 miles per hour, according to Perfect Game. Both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline have labeled it a 65 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, close to double-plus. Pipeline, who have Manoah listed 10th on their draft prospect rankings, went into further detail.
A physical beast at 6-foot-6, 260-pounds, Manoah has always shown glimpses of solid power stuff, but without consistency or command of it. That’s changed this spring as he has shown above-average control for most of his junior season. He’s pitched with a fastball typically in the 94-97 mph range, missing a ton of bats thanks to good sink.
Manoah maintains that velocity well late into starts; as Baseball America’s Dave Serrano noted in April, Manoah’s 120th pitch in a dominant outing against Texas was clocked at 97 miles per hour.
The fastball is a beast of an offering on its own, but it has been made even better by the development of his slider — one he developed by watching Pitching Ninja gifs.
“He’s lefty but he has one of the best sliders in the league,” Manoah said. “He’s manipulating his thumb when he throws the slider. If he wants a tight one, he’ll put his thumb higher on the ball so there is less room for the ball to slip out. If he wants more depth, he will lower his thumb and let (the ball) kind of pop out a little bit.”
Manoah modified Betances’ cutter grip with Sale’s thumb manipulation and created an 84-86 mph slider with late bite.
Now the slider is a true weapon, one FanGraphs labeled another 65-grade offering. MLB Pipeline was not quite as kind in their grading, at 55, but said “His slider flashes plus at times and has been a more reliable weapon for him.” Baseball America split the difference, saying the slider “projects as a second plus pitch.” They have him ranked 13th on their board, up from 21st earlier in the draft cycle.
Manoah is also relatively inexperienced for a college starter, having spent most of his freshman and sophomore seasons in the Mountaineers’ bullpen. While this could be seen as good or bad, most view this in a positive light. Not only does he have fewer innings on his arm, but he also has a bit more projection remaining than one might expect from a college arm. His control already took a big step forward in 2019 — he has walked just over two batters per nine innings this season, down from 4.67 per nine in 2018 — and could further improve as he refines his mechanics.
Manoah has shown the makings of a decent changeup at times, but it clearly lags behind his other two offerings. ESPN’s Keith Law briefly described it as “below-average,” while Pipeline noted Manoah “hasn’t used it as much this spring.” Our friends at The Good Phight said Manoah’s changeup is “unlikely to get much better, but is good for keeping hitters honest.” While this type of projection works for most college arms — former second rounder Spencer Turnbull didn’t have much of a changeup coming out of college, and he has been fine — it limits Manoah’s overall ceiling. Many see him as more of a potential mid-rotation starter, the kind of ceiling you don’t necessarily want to aim for at No. 5 overall.
Further limiting Manoah’s projection is his body type. Fair or not, there aren’t many pitchers his size that have had long, successful major league careers, and Manoah doesn’t appear to be especially athletic for his size. Baseball America labeled it “questionable athleticism” and mentioned that he might eventually end up in the bullpen.
He also entered the season with significant reliever risk because of his erratic control, large, 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame and questionable athleticism. However, he has started pitching exclusively out of the stretch and, as a result, has improved his strike-throwing ability enough to give him a real shot of sticking as a starter in pro ball ... teams will likely be concerned with how well he is able to manage his body moving forward. This list of major league starting pitchers who have had success at or near Manoah’s size is a short one, with CC Sabathia, Aaron Harang, Justin Masterson and Michael Pineda some of the names who qualify.
Manoah’s control is still an open question as well. His athleticism feeds into that, as it helps with repeating one’s delivery. Though he has done well on this front in 2019 and has cut back on the walks, Manoah has also hit nine batters and uncorked seven wild pitches in 90 2⁄3 innings. He has been better on this front, too — he plunked 32 batters (!) in his first two seasons with West Virginia — but could still struggle to work within the strike zone as he faces more advanced competition.
Draft position: top 10-15
At the moment, Manoah looks like a player that could slot as high as sixth or as low as 15th in the first round. He seems to have fallen a step behind TCU lefthander, the consensus top pitcher in the class, but has been linked to the Padres, Rangers, and Giants — three teams picking in the top 10. Texas seems like an easy match; they are heavily rumored to want an under-slot deal (read: no high school players) and showed the most interest of anyone in Manoah when he was coming out of high school.
Either way, it’s probably safe to say that Manoah will be available when the Tigers make their pick at No. 5 overall. They could opt for yet another righthander in the first round — their fifth in a row, if it happens. Unless Manoah makes a late push or another candidate falters, however, it seems more likely that they opt for one of the high-profile bats mentioned at the top of the draft.