Alek Manoah didn’t have a defined role in his first two seasons at West Virginia. After working mostly as a reliever and receiving an occasional start in his first two years, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound right-handed hurler will be West Virginia’s No. 1 starter this season.
Manoah has had mixed results, showing glimpses of his potential, in his first two years of college baseball. It wasn’t until last summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League that he had significant success as a starting pitcher.
His accomplishments over the summer have professional scouts buzzing entering this spring. He’s considered a potential first-round pick in June’s MLB draft, as MLB.com ranks him as the 38th-best prospect.
If he’s selected in the first round, Manoah would become West Virginia’s first first-rounder since 1997.
“There’s not much in my control with the draft,” said Manoah, who’s brother Erik plays in the Los Angeles Angels minor league system. “The only thing in my control is having a good season. You have to go through the draft meetings and the questioners but at the end of the day, I can’t get too ahead of myself.”
Manoah recorded a 3.07 ERA with 45 strikeouts, 33 walks allowed and 17 hit batters in 55 2/3 innings in 2017. He appeared in 19 games (10 starts) and figured to play a bigger role as a sophomore last season.
He struggled with his command and ability to mix in his secondary pitches at times last spring. It hindered his success on the mound, as he posted a 4.00 ERA with 60 strikeouts, 28 walks allowed and 15 hit batters in 54 innings. He started eight of the 23 games he appeared in.
In the summer, Manoah made significant strides. He had confidence with his fastball and located it well, while throwing his evolving slider with consistency to keep hitters off balanced. It resulted in Manoah leading the Cape Cod League in strikeouts, as he started nine games and posted a 3.57 ERA with 68 strikeouts and 14 walks allowed in 45 1/3 innings.
Manoah’s repertoire consists of a fastball, slider and changeup. He throws from a three-quarter arm slot and his top offering is his fastball, which sits in the mid-90s and touches 98 mph. It’s his most reliable pitch, as he consistently throws it for strikes.
“The biggest strength in my game right now is my mentality and competitiveness,” Manoah said. “Every day I go out there, my teammates and coaches know that I am going to give it my all. I’m going to give 100 percent, and I’m going to compete as hard as I can, regardless of if I’m not feeling too great or my stuff isn’t on.”
Manoah hopes to show growth with his secondary pitches this spring. His top off-speed pitch is his slider, which he taught himself and continues to refine as it progresses towards being an above-average outpitch.
He read articles and watched videos of current major-league players to figure out an ideal grip for his slider. He combined Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale’s slider and New York Yankees right-handed reliever Dellin Betances’ cutter into one pitch.
“I started to play with that grip,” he said. “I finally found a grip and release point that was really good for me. It’s worked really well with my arm angle.”
Although his top priority is West Virginia’s success, Manoah also hopes to take the next step in his development this spring.
“I just want to be a consistent starter in every game and everything time I go out there, while giving my team a chance to win,” Manoah said. “Hopefully I can be that guy that wins over 10 games this year. I feel like if I do that, I can be in the running for Big 12 Pitcher of the Year.”
(Photo of Alek Manoah via West Virgina athletics)
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.”