Watching top pitching prospects make their MLB debuts is a blast for me. Often with a lot of these guys, we hear about them for years, we hear about their potential, and maybe we see a GIF or two on Twitter from their stints in the minors, but unless you’re a local, you’re not going to actually see them too often.
But their MLB debut is the first time we really get to watch these prospects pitch, and it’s fun. Today is one of those fun days, because we got to see the No. 18 overall prospect, Matt Manning make his MLB debut against the Angels.
Before we dive into his start, here’s a little bit about Manning: He was selected out of Sheldon High School by the Tigers as the ninth pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, right after Cal Quantrill and right before Zack Collins.
Manning’s a big dude (as you’ll see in the GIFs), standing at 6’6″ and initially had committed to playing college basketball before signing with the Tigers.
It’s that height alongside a good delivery that helps him throw an upper-90s fastball that can touch 100 (per his scouting report). Along with that, the scouting report on him says he owns a high-spin curveball as his putaway pitch, a solid changeup, and he developed a slider this year.
As a result of his repertoire, he’s had some great strikeout numbers in the minors, but, like basically every highly-touted, hard-throwing pitching prospect, he’s also had some control problems.
He’s also struggled a bit in Triple-A so far this year. In seven starts (so a small sample size, it’s important to note), Manning owns an 8.07 ERA with a 6.54 FIP and a 1.55 WHIP.
Anyways, enough intro, let’s dive into the GIFs!
I’ve mentioned this before in other GIF breakdowns I’ve done, but I’m always fascinated by what pitch rookie pitchers throw in their MLB debuts. You’re on the big stage for the first time, what are you going to enter the league with?
Justin Upton is the first batter Maning sees, here’s what he went with:
Unsurprisingly, it’s a fastball.
Manning is known for his fastball, and honestly, most of the time, I’d expect a rookie to throw a fastball with their first pitch in their MLB debut. It’s the pitch you know, it’s the pitch you can control the best, it makes sense. Only 92 MPH on that fastball though coming from a guy whose fastball is supposed to average upper-90s.
Manning eventually got to a 3-1 count with Upton, throwing nothing but fastballs, before Upton lines out to third base on yet another fastball for Manning to get his first MLB out.
Next up is Shohei Ohtani, who also works to a 3-1 count, but in the process, we get this:
It’s our first look at Manning’s curveball!
It’s in the dirt, but that’s okay. My first impression—I like it. It’s a big 12-6 looper, comes in at 77 MPH, which if Manning is really going to consistently throw mid- to high-90s on his fastball is a big speed difference. If he can control that, I like it a lot as a putaway pitch.
Most of the pitches Manning threw to Ohtani were fastballs though. There was that one curveball and then another pitch buried in the dirt that I’m unsure on what it was. Statcast says it was his changeup, I’m inclined to believe them based on the velocity, but I’m not adding the GIF because it’s not a good example of his changeup (we’ll get there! I promise!)
After working to that 3-1 count though, Ohtani walks on yet another fastball outside the zone.
Next up we’ve got Taylor Ward, and Manning makes a big mistake here that he gets very lucky with:
That’s a 93 MPH fastball right down the pipe, and Manning is supremely fortunate Ward didn’t launch that pitch into oblivion. Instead, he popped it up to right field, and I’m sure Manning was thanking whatever supreme eternal being he believes in that he wasn’t getting a new ball from the umpire.
Jared Walsh was up next, and Manning played around with Ohtani on first base a lot, attempting to pick him off (justifiably, as Ohtani did attempt a steal). Walsh tried to bunt on the first pitch and missed. He ultimately worked to a 1-1 count (on nothing but fastballs) before flying out to the left fielder (on, yet again, a fastball).
And Matt Manning’s first MLB inning is over.
The second inning wasn’t particularly kind to Manning. It started off alright, with Kurt Suzuki hitting a line drive out on his first pitch (yet another fastball).
Then, Kean Wong comes up and attempts a bunt on the first pitch but pulls back for a ball on, guess what pitch? A fastball!
Wong gets to a 2-1 count on nothing but fastballs and then does this on yet another fastball:
If you throw the same pitch over and over, eventually a hitter is going to pick up on it, and Wong did that here, securing a nice (and kind of aggressive) double and providing Manning with his first hit allowed in an MLB game.
Next up was Juan Lagares, and Manning finally decided to go back to his curveball, which led to this:
And that’s what utilizing your curveball can do. And again, that’s a nice looking curveball, if he controls it well, that’ll be good not only for groundouts but strikeouts too.
Then, Luis Rengifo comes up and gets nothing but fastballs that all miss to get to 3-0. Two foul balls (on fastballs) get him to 3-2, but another high fastball was one too many.
Ultimately Rengifo ends up a third with sort of a triple, though it was officially scored as a single given the throw to home.
Then, up comes David Fletcher who gets an 0-0 fastball right over the heart of the plate and takes advantage of it.
Another RBI base hit off yet another fastball, and if you’re keeping track at home, that’s not seven straight fastballs Manning has thrown.
After this, Chris Fetter, the Tigers’ pitching coach, came out to the mound to chat with Manning, and I think what he said to him essentially amounted to “you know you have more than one pitch, right?”
Whatever he said, it changed up Manning’s approach, because look how he attacked Justin Upton.
First pitch, fastball up, no surprises there. But then:
Curveball down, very nice, going a little north-south there. The curveball was a ball but still, a little variety is good. Then:
Another curveball. I’m sure that one was supposed to be lower, but fortunately for Manning, Upton fouled it off.
Manning changes speed again and gets Upton looking on a 95 MPH fastball. Now that is how you do some pitch sequencing, and it earns Manning his first major league strikeout.
Shohei Ohtani leads off the third and works himself to a 3-1 count on a mix of fastballs and a curveball, and also one pitch in the dirt that Statcast classifies as Manning’s slider:
To me, that doesn’t look all that different from his curveball, except it is a big faster (which, honestly, might be the major difference between his slider and curveball right now). Either way, when a pitch is in the dirt like that, it’s hard to tell exactly what it was supposed to be, because clearly Manning got the release point on the pitch wrong.
After working to a 3-2 count, Ohtani grounded out, and next up was Taylor Ward. Manning again started mixing pitches well, working in this high curveball:
That wasn’t supposed to be high, but it worked to snag a called strike one (as high curveballs often do)
Ward then whiffed on a fastball and flew out to center field on an 0-2 fastball.
Next up was Jared Walsh who worked the count to 2-1 before we got this pitch:
That’s the best look at Manning’s changeup that we’ve gotten so far, and I like it! It’s nothing incredible, but it works as a third pitch. It changes speeds, it’s got a little bit of movement to it, overall it’s solid, and if he can control it (as always, a big if), it can be a nice supplementary pitch.
Walsh then hit a high fastball for a line out and Manning was through his third inning.
First up in the fourth was Kurt Suzuki, and Manning gets him in an 0-2 count, first on a fastball Suzuki watched in the way that batters just watch a first pitch strike even though it’s a good pitch to hit, and then fouled off this nicely-placed pitch:
I say “pitch” because Statcast classified this as a slider. Like I said earlier, I think this looks more like a curveball, but far be it from me to question Statcast’s pitch classification. Still, I think that’s a curveball. Either way, that’s a really nicely located breaking ball and exactly what I want to see.
After working to an 0-2 count, Manning got Suzuki to fly out on a low curveball. Then, up came Kean Wong again, and after a curveball in the dirt to get to 1-0 and a high fastball to get to 2-0, this happened:
Nicely DONE Harold Castro. It’s not the flashiest play you’ll see at shortstop, but that’s a really nice leaping grab to save what would’ve been a base hit otherwise.
Juan Lagares was up next and quickly got to an 0-2 count watching a low fastball and whiffing on a high fastball before getting a base hit on another fastball to left field.
Then Luis Rengifo comes up and Manning screws up badly and gets very lucky.
Once again, Manning is very fortunate that pitch didn’t end up in the seats. That’s a fastball down the middle and you really shouldn’t do that in a major league game. Luckily, Rengifo took it for strike one.
Manning then threw another fastball down the middle that Rengifo fouled off, and then threw a low fastball getting the groundout.
It’s the fifth inning! And honestly, it was a lot of the same for Manning.
David Fletcher was up first and worked to a 2-0 count for flying out on a high fastball. Then, Upton came to bat, got a curveball in the dirt for 1-0, an inside slider (or curveball, who knows at this point) that he fouled off for 1-1, and then this pitch:
A nice, on the corner, 94 MPH fastball for strike two. I like seeing that.
And I liked the next pitch even more:
95 MPH, up and in, whiff right through it, see you later Justin Upton. Really nicely done to get the second out.
Ohtani was up next, and after working to a 3-1 count, we got another good look at Manning’s changeup (though, unfortunately, for a walk):
Again, it’s a nice looking changeup. Nothing incredible, but it works as a third pitch to complement the rest of his repertoire. The key is controlling it.
Taylor Ward then came up and after working to a 2-2 count, Manning finished out the fifth (and his debut) in style:
Strike three called on a fastball as Ohtani attempts a steal.
First off, I want to note that I’m really encouraged the Tigers let Manning go 77 pitches here. They could’ve easily put him on some sort of pitch count and they didn’t. Instead, they let him struggle a bit and then settle into his game.
Ultimately, Manning finished out his first MLB start with five innings pitched, two earned runs, three strikeouts, on 77 pitches. All in all, not terrible, but also not especially impressive.
That said, I like what Manning has. He was way over-reliant on his fastball tonight, which surprisingly only maxed out at 96.6 MPH and averaged 93.9, which is not what I was expecting. And there were way too many fastballs over the heart of the plate:
Still, he tried to keep the fastballs up(ish) and the breakers/off-speed pitches mostly down, and that’s good.
And once he settled down and started utilizing his secondary pitches more, things started working out better for him. He’s got a solid fastball, a nice-looking curveball, and a solid changeup (and I guess a slider?)
I like the repertoire. As far as MLB debuts go, it could’ve easily been worse (looking at you Jackson Kowar), but it also could’ve been better. A 21% CSW overall isn’t all that impressive, especially when you see a CSW under 20% on his breaking/off-speed pitches. I don’t love that.
But it’s hard to judge a guy on his debut. Manning has three solid pitches and that’s the making of a good starting pitcher. I’m not blown away by him by any stretch after this start, but the potential is absolutely there, and I really like the way he settled down and got into rhythm.
It would’ve been really easy for him to get out of sorts (especially in the second inning) and start just drilling fastballs in there hoping something would work. But he didn’t. Instead, he relied on his secondary pitches more, he adjusted, and that’s a sign of a mature pitcher.
Overall, nicely done Matt Manning.
Photo by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)
Awesome stuff Ben, thanks!