Manoah: Large major league presence in every way
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Standing 6-feet-6. Weighing about 268 pounds. Huge black beard in place above his tattooed right arm — the right arm that earned him a $4,547,500 signing bonus from the Toronto Blue Jays, when he was selected as the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2019 Major League Baseball draft.
Alek Manoah had just completed his junior year at West Virginia University, a season where he had a 9-4 record, with a miniscule 2.08 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 108.1 innings pitched.
Manoah came to WVU in the fall of 2016 after going undrafted upon graduation from South Dade High School in Homestead, Fla., an area known more for truck farmed tomatoes, melons and other produce than baseball players.
He didn’t have the huge black beard nor the lengthy tattoo on his now-valuable right arm then. He had been a catcher in high school until his senior year with the Rebels. He even batted .452 as a backstop.
But at West Virginia, Manoah quickly developed a 90-plus fastball, stinging slider and useable changeup.
By 2019, he was the Mountaineer’s No. 1 pitcher. And the team had other useful tools that meshed together to become a viable threat to reach the 64-team NCAA tournament.
Manoah was named the Big 12 Conference pitcher of the year after showing the credentials and now-refined talent to be on every Big League team’s radar. Then in June of 2019, the Blue Jays made Manoah an instant millionaire when they selected him in the first round of the amateur player draft. He had been named a first-team All-American by six different organizations or publications.
There wasn’t any professional minor league baseball in 2020, courtesy of the pandemic.
This spring, Manoah landed on the Class AAA Buffalo team’s roster. He was mostly effective, showing a 3-0 record and striking out 27 batters in only 18 innings of work. Toronto promoted him to the Big League club and gave him a start against the vaunted New York Yankees. The erstwhile Bronx Bombers were blanked in six innings by the unfazed right-hander.
After several nondescript starts, Manoah recently wowed baseball people when he struck out seven consecutive batters in a game against Tampa Bay. In that start in late June, he actually fanned Francisco Mejia on a sharp-breaking slider that Mejia flailed away at it but had it hit him in the leg as he swung and missed.
In 36.2 innings pitched through July 4, his strikeout total is 43 in 36.2 innings. the overall record in his seven starts (and seven games) is 2-0 and his ERA is 2.70.
Prior to his strikeout-laced game against the Rays, he had been suspended five games for throwing at Baltimore third baseman Maikel Franco.
Opposing teams have been offended at times by his outsized actions when he produces strikeouts. Open-mouthed screams, outstretched arms and attention-drawing antics aren’t usually appreciated by major league players. And Manoah’s are no different.
Nobody has charged the mound. No dugouts have cleared. But nobody has forgotten the unpopular way their strikeouts have been received.
Alek Manoah has shined a spotlight on West Virginia University baseball. He could become the best-known pitcher the school has ever sent to the Major Leagues. And that would be an accomplishment since Baltimore’s John Means has already been selected to one American League All-Star team and pitched a no-hitter.