With no minor league baseball season in 2020, we knew many prospects would make seemingly unreasonable jumps in the early part of the 2021 campaign. Still, I doubt many expected to see Blue Jays right-hander Alek Manoah, a 2019 first-round pick who had just 17 professional innings under his belt – all with Low-A Vancouver – making his major league debut in late May.
However, a scorching performance during Spring Training – which included a 12 strikeout performance against the New York Yankees (a very similar lineup to the group he is set to face this evening) along with a dominant three-game stretch at Triple-A Buffalo led to Manoah getting an early call to join the Blue Jays – a team that is desperate to find a fifth starter after injuries and ineffectiveness have plagued other pitchers in that role, including Trent Thornton and fellow prospect Nate Pearson.
Manoah possesses a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and reaches 98 at times, along with a power slider that he effectively utilizes against both right and left-handed hitters. His changeup is a work in progress and has been a big part of his surprise success early this year, making it a pitch I am watching very closely as he gets set to make his major league debut in the Bronx against a surging Yankees lineup.
Manoah is likely already rostered in your league, as he was a priority pickup this week, but how he does today will determine if he is up for good or set to return to Triple-A for more seasoning. He’ll still be competing with Thornton and Pearson for that final rotation spot, but a strong performance tonight will go a long way toward him holding that spot throughout the summer.
Great stuff Andy, I was buckled in and ready for a ghost of Huascar Ynoa to appear with a mid-to-upper 90s heater and a slider to make me jump with excitement. Here’s what I saw in Alek Monoah’s first major league start across 24 GIFs.
The first pitch from Manoah was…a little underwhelming at 94 mph:
Normally we see an amped-up pitch and from the report above, 94 is a bit on the lower side from Manoah. I’m a fan of seeing him pitch from the stretch in all counts as it can create consistency when batters get on base & it speaks to fewer moving parts in the windup. Fewer actions = more reliable release points.
His 1-0 pitch sailed up-an-in for an easy take for LeMahieu at 95, then missing again a bit closer to the zone at 94, and one more down-and-in at 96 mph to walk his first batter on four pitches.
Okay fine, there’s the “adrenaline” – he just needs to get a fastball in the zone or two and he’ll settle down. With Rougned Odor at the dish, Manoah fired a 95 mph up-and-away for a gifted strike one:
I’m just patiently waiting here for Manoah to relax and show me who he actually is, as he fired another fastball just off the plate that was fouled back by Odor. Manoah hasn’t tossed a single pitch in the zone in this game and he has Odor down 0-2. Baseball.
I was expecting a slider to come in his first 0-2 count, but instead, we got this:
That’s a lovely 0-2 changeup! Beautiful fade down-and-away that starts along the outside edge, playing perfectly off the two fastballs that came before it. It was reported to be his third best pitch, but if his changeup can look like that the majority of the time, it makes a fantastic case for heavy usage.
Aaron Judge stepped up with one down and received Manoah’s first slider of the day, missing up-and-in as he missed his spot terribly. Don’t worry, I thought, he’ll try again later in this at-bat. Judge is destined to see sliders down-and-away in every at-bat, after all.
At 1-0, Manoah went heater, featuring his first one in the zone at 96, promptly fouled off by Judge. Aaron seemed slightly beat by it and suggests a properly executed slider to come next. It’s exactly what we got…well, save for the execution as Manoah, again, missed the sweeper up-and-in.
But the 2-1 pitch? GORGEOUS:
This is such a great pitch. That should be a strike any way you slice it – a whiff if Judge were to swing and a point from the umpire if taken – and it’s frustrating to see it turn into a 3-1 count. Give the kid a break! He finally executed the pitch and still wasn’t rewarded.
At 3-1, Manoah went back to the fastball and this happened:
Followed by this:
Whoa. Those are two terrible swings from the terrifying Judge, both on heaters that he simply couldn’t handle. It’s what happens when you toss a phenomenal slider at 2-1, and after seeing a pedestrian 94 mph to kick off the game, I’m glad we’re finally starting to see the real Manoah. A man with a legit heater, a solid slider, and a surprisingly good changeup. I want more.
Gleyber Torres followed and took a lazy 94 mph fastball up-and-away for a strike. Expecting a slider at 0-1, Manoah was able to cruise a 96 mph heater on the outer half for strike two, then didn’t get the swing on a well-spotted slider under the zone:
Excellent location that normally would induce a swing, but Torres was clearly willing to gamble for the breaker. Manoah turned to it again at 1-2, but left it a bit over the plate, allowing a front-footed Torres to foul it off to stay alive. Returning to a 1-2 count, Manoah surprised me:
That’s a righty-on-righty changeup! I love seeing that pitch call as it can work incredibly well…if it’s located down. He missed this one up and gave Torres a chance to foul it off, but simply having that confidence on his third offering – let alone featuring all three of his pitches without fear in the first frame! – has me seduced.
Back to the at-bat. We’re still at 1-2 and Manoah returned to the fastball, inducing a can-of-corn in the outfield, putting his first MLB frame in the books:
I’m digging this so far. While he had some location questions, he doesn’t seem to be chaotic or irregularly erratic with his fastball, and his two secondaries showed moments of legitimacy. If he can hone in on each pitch’s potential, ascension awaits.
Entering the second frame, I was wondering if we’d see more of that slider as I wanted to see Manoah earn his first whiff with the pitch – it certainly has the action to do so. He also failed to throw a breaker to his sole lefty in Odor and it’s possible the pitch would show itself against the lefty Mike Ford.
He started off Ford with a fastball away, as all four pitches against left-handers now have been located arm-side. The 1-0 was the same and found itself near the heart of the plate – a 95 mph heater fouled off for strike one.
I’ve often brought up that the most impressive fastball skill is the ability to consistently feature heaters up-and-in to the opposite-handed batter – if you see a young right-hander jam lefties frequently, it’s an early sign of success. I couldn’t help but think of it during this at-bat as Manoah turned to his changeup at 1-1 and watched it fall in the dirt at 2-1.
Another down-the-pipe fastball at 95 mph was fouled off for the second strike before a solid 2-2 changeup:
That’s a solid changeup, even if it came further inside than Manoah would like. Ford did well to get a piece and stay alive.
Now at 3-2, I expected another fastball and so did Ford as he thought he had earned a walk:
There it is! A slider against a left-hander! Generally, the approach is either going for this back-door strike or locating the pitch down-and-in under the zone in the hitter’s blind spot, and at 3-2, I’m all for this breaker sneaking across the outside corner. Sure, it got a bit away from Manoah and was awfully close, but hey, I dig the approach.
Manoah started off Clint Fraizer with a first-pitch slider for a strike, followed by 95 mph upstairs that Fraizer just can’t resist:
That’s a strong 0-1 pitch as it looks so tempting all the way through. It’s pretty clear Manoah’s fastball has a bit of life to it.
Manoah missed a bit up on the 0-2 fastball up, then attacked for it again, leading to a lazy flyout off Fraizer’s bat. Two away.
Miguel Andújar stepped in and was ready to attacked Manoah right away:
That fastball has some tail as it landed right on the inside corner at 96 mph, jammed Andújar, broke his bat, and the baseball gods weren’t in his favor. It’s a great first pitch, don’t let the result suggest otherwise.
Facing left-handed Brett Gardner, Manoah tried to hit a fastball away, but he tugged it a bit inside, still landing in the zone for strike one. I phrased it like that as it technically was the up-and-in location I outlined before, but it wasn’t intentional. It’s not a skill yet.
He fired 95 mph through Gardner’s bat down the middle for strike two, the attempted to elevate at 96 mph, but it got too much of the zone, allowing Gardner to foul it straight back.
Manoah set up Gardner for a changeup and to my disappointment, failed to execute it, lifting it up and out over the plate for Gardner to foul off.
Sidenote: Look, I want to GIF these pitches, but they are all..unremarkable. Manoah, give me something interesting!
Manoah had another chance to put away Gardner and elected to try a slider:
I’m trying to figure out exactly where it was intended to land and I’m imaging the center-located glove was to induce a slider that falls into the ankles of Gardner. It worked for the most part, even if he kept it a bit more elevated than he’d like.
All in all, another solid inning from Manoah. His stuff speaks to getting constant strikes in the zone, with hints of whiffs as well. In this incredibly small sample, we’ve seen glimpses of Manoah overpowering batters, while most batters saw decent fastballs, and good enough secondary pitches. That certainly plays and I hope to see more of the high moments in the third.
The third frame started off in a wonderful way:
Wait, he changes speeds on his slider?! I love this pitch, even if it’s only coming it at 81 mph. It reminds me a bit of the Kluber breaker as it started middle-middle before falling well out of the zone, making it a wonderful complement to his heater. We saw the slider hit 86 mph earlier in the game and with these different speeds and movement profiles, you have batters in a haze trying to anticipate what’s next. I want more of this.
Manoah went back to the slider again at 1-0 to Kyle Higashioka, this time at 83 mph and earned the flyout for his first out. That’s some lovely variability!
He got a fortunate call to open DJ LeMahieu on a fastball down-and-away, and followed it up with a pitch that made me emit a noise:
Yessss, I love this. That’s confidence on an 0-1 pitch to not hang a changeup and he was rewarded with a whiff to get to 0-2. Now DJ will have this pitch in his head the rest of the at-bat and you don’t even need to throw it again. We need more pitchers doing this in the majors and to see it during an MLB debut is glorious.
At 0-2, Manoah turned to his slider in an attempt to sit down DJ on three different pitches. It didn’t work:
I will say, in the small sample we’ve seen so far of Manoah’s slider, he hasn’t gotten into a rhythm commanding the pitch. This was a massive mistake for an 0-2 offering and he’s lucky to get another try. He didn’t waste it:
While it was just at 94 mph, that’s a lovely spotted heater that’s too close for DJ to take. So we’ve seen Manoah throw elevated fastballs, righty-on-righty changeups, early breakers, and turn to any pitch in any count thus far. Sure, he hasn’t had the most pristine command along the way, but I can get behind this. The man is unpredictable in a great way.
Speaking of which, would you have expected this lovely 0-0 changeup to Rougned Odor?
What a fantastic way to start off the at-bat – the same exact pitch you struck him out with in the first inning. Manoah isn’t pitching afraid, he’s pitching with confidence.
After earning a 0-1 count with a changeup away, he was able to blow a 95 mph fastball past Odor on the outside corner. Odor has seen five pitches from Manoah, five strikes.
That streak ended as Manoah overthrew a changeup down-and-away for an easy take. A bit different from the first inning slow ball as it started just off the plate, removing any appeal from Odor the moment it left his hand.
After a fastball sailed up-and-away for ball two, Manoah tried again with a fastball and missed poorly at 96 mph, getting too far on the side of the ball for another instant take from Odor.
Now at 3-2, Manoah did exactly what he did against Mike Ford: he threw a slider for a strike:
Mmmmm I love that aggression! He’s not giving in and believed he could execute a slider to put away odor. It’s addictive watching a pitcher throw like this and makes you believe pitching is easy. Manoah, you’re pretty dang good.
Life is pretty good when you can execute a fastball and earn your first out of the inning:
That’s a two-seamer on the hands of Judge, reminding him of what sat him down in the first. Manoah took advantage of Judge’s aggression and got the coveted first out. Love it.
He did the same to Gleyber Torres, but instead of falling off the plate, it stuck to the edge for strike one. Manoah tossed it again, this time with a bit of sink as it fell to the corner for another out:
Hey, I dig this. Sure, down-and-in fastballs aren’t generally the best approach (it’s easier to drop the barrel of the bat and make contact than pulling the hands in to get the up-and-in heater), but Manoah clearly has a fastball he can effectively place inside the zone and that’s an incredibly important skill.
He fired another heater over the plate for strike one to Mike Ford, followed by a slider that sailed out of the zone and a changeup skipped in the dirt. At 2-1, he missed upstairs at 95 mph, before sliding just inside the zone with 95 mph fastball.
It’s another 3-2 count to Ford and Manoah tried the same approach again – a slider that got plenty of the plate and Ford was able to tap foul. Doing it again, Manoah elected to go changeup this time:
That’s a great 3-2 pitch as this pitch looked like a heater down the pipe before falling away to nip the edge, forcing Ford to sky it off the end of the bat.
Manoah looks in control, with four frames down at a lovely 58 pitch count. I wonder how his stamina holds up as he gets deep into the game, but keep in mind, this is a seven-inning game. We may not see much more of him.
Manoah’s start to the fifth inning was lovely with this breaker falling in for a strike:
You watch it and you know that’s a free strike. Smooth as butter.
He attacked Fraizer the same way as he did previously, featuring a high heater at 0-1 and Fraizer took the bait, once again:
That’s a fantastic 0-1 pitch. It’s the up-and-away location I discussed earlier and Manoah earned this out, even if it came in at 93 mph – his lowest of the day.
Just like with Fraizer, Manoah dropped a first-pitch slider for a strike to Andújar. It’s rare to get burned on this and I applaud Manoah for it.
Even moreso, he turned to the pitch again, but this time, a bit lower and Andújar couldn’t hold back, fouling it off down the line. Now the world is Manoah’s oyster – does he elevate? Go back to the slider? Maybe even a changeup?
They went high heat – makes perfect sense given the mid 80s velocity of the first two pitches – and Manoah missed down the middle, allowing Andújar to just get a piece and force another pitch. Manoah corrected it with another heater, this time well out of the zone that…Andújar somehow fouled off. Alright Miguel, you shouldn’t get another now.
Manoah didn’t get the message though, and featured a sinker that got too much of the plate:
This was supposed to be inside to jam Andújar, but I question the call. Manoah shook off a lot of other offerings to get to this one and I imagine there will be a discussion later about it.
Brett Gardner stood in the box and saw what the rest of the Yankees saw this inning – a first-pitch slider for a strike. Gardner’s hands outlined he was looking for a heater to poke to left and all I thought was I hope they stay off-speed.
Manoah went heater, but it found the dirt quickly – the first miss I’ve seen on the heater in the dirt. At 1-1, he went heater and it found the zone, proving how little I know:
That looks like a sinker and Gardner, who seemed to be looking for that heater away, swung right through it. Maybe it was what Gardner wanted and he just couldn’t hit, maybe the sequencing changed his mind, or maybe I just read it all wrong. Regardless, Manoah’s fastball is proving itself hard to hit and that’s a wonderful thing.
He missed with a 1-2 changeup in the dirt (love the pitch call, not the execution) and at 2-2, he elevated with a heater that Gardner barely held up on. It’s 3-2 once again and you have to think slider, right? It’s what he’s done to Ford and Odor.
Nope. That’s pure 95 heat and Gardner was unable to touch it. Mmmm, it’s not a well-located pitch but he’s only allowed two hits all day and you can’t blame Manoah for pumping the pitch in there until someone punishes him for it.
He started of Higashioka with a pair of breakers, the first just missing down and the second backing up to catch the inside corner. Then he tossed this beauty:
Wooof, that got there in a blink of an eye, perfectly spotted on the corner. Such a great pitch, opening the door for this breaker:
Watch those two pitches back-to-back. One is a fastball that curls back over the edge, the other looks just like the previous pitch before sweeping away from the plate. Higgy can’t help but offer at it before it’s too late. This is the stuff of legends.
With just 75 pitches in the books, Manoah came out for the sixth, earning strike one on a four-seamer at 93 mph just on the edge to DJ LeMaheiu. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a sign of some stamina issues, but hey, 93 mph isn’t a big deal.
At 0-1, he flicked a slider over the plate, landing down-and-away, earning a flyout for his first out of the inning. Rougned Odor followed and saw a 94 mph inside for ball one. Inside! Not just sitting away! I’m a fan of this change of approach as he’s facing the top of the lineup for the third time. Even one pitch inside can reshape the entire at-bat.
Odor fouled off 94 mph out-and-over the plate, then came close to going around on a solid changeup that zoomed off the plate at 89 mph:
Even without the whiff, that movement should get you excited, almost earning a whiff on a pitch that landed nowhere near the zone.
At 2-1, Manoah failed to go inside with heat, resulting in 92 mph well high, followed by a slider missing up-and-away for ball four.
Uh oh, it’s a true sign of fatigue now as Manaoh is throwing softer and sailing his breaker. And now stepping into the box was Aaron Judge. It’s getting tense – it’s a 2-0 game in the bottom of the sixth of a seven-inning game.
Manoah tossed a fantastic first pitch to get ahead to Judge:
Those first pitch breakers are doing some work for Manoah. Judge is guessing incorrectly a ton against Manoah today and Manoah elected to go with the pitch a second time:
Ohhhh man that was close. This was possibly the biggest mistake of the day and Judge couldn’t quite get the barrel on it as the pitch mimicked the first, but just a little closer to the heart of the plate.
The Blue Jays began warming up their pen now as Manoah is nearing the finish line. He missed with a 93 mph sinker inside to Gleyber Torres, then played the east-west game by landing 94 mph on the black away for strike one.
At 1-1, Manoah turned to the changeup:
I love it. Sure, it’s hittable, but that’s a hard pitch to time after a pair of fastballs and likely earns a called strike or a foul ball. And how can you not love the mentality! That’s a righty-on-righty crime in a 1-1 count.
Now ahead at 1-2, Manoah does what most pitchers do: he threw a slider down-and-away:
Phew, he made it. It took him 88 pitches to toss six shutout innings, ending his debut with a fantastic slider that deserved the out. Well done.
In short, Manoah is excellent. I wouldn’t say that he’s bringing elite stuff to the table, but he throws a sinker and four-seamer with confidence for strikes, his changeup is effective, and his slider can be a legit whiff pitch. There will be times when batters will be able to take advantage of his mistakes, but his confidence to go with all three pitches in his arsenal at any moment paired with above-average stuff across the board speaks to an arm that will help the Blue Jays right away.
There was a sign of fatigue at the moment as he powered through the sixth, but that’s common in debuts as many pitchers are overloaded with adrenaline early without saving enough for the later innings. And to see the Jays trust their rookie with 85+ pitches in his debut is something we can all appreciate in this day and age.
I’m looking forward to watching more of Manoah as his approach of throwing all three of his pitches regardless of count or handedness paired with above-average stuff primes him for plenty of success ahead. There will be some growing pains as his mistakes get punished, but I see more shine than shade ahead.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)