The latest nine innings of C’s Chat features 2019 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Alek Manoah.
The Toronto Blue Jays selected the right-hander with the 11th pick of the 2019 MLB draft out of West Virginia. The Jays had shown interest in the Homestead, Florida native as far back as his high school days at South Dade. In 2014, Alek and his older brother Erik Manoah won the Class 8A Florida State title with Erik getting the final out and Alek playing first base.
“I think that state championship was the biggest thing in high school. Being able to play next to my brother and being able to develop together, I think that was a really cool experience for us. Being able to compete at a high level the following two years as well, I think, was really good.
Our head coach down there, he’s the head coach still, was Fred Burnside. The way he runs practices, the way he ran that entire organization and team. I think that prepared me for college and for the next level. It prepared a bunch of us for the next level.”
Another highlight for Alek during his high school days was participating in the 2015 Under Armour All-Star Game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. That event featured 40 of the top high school players in the U.S, including current Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette.
“Under Armour in Wrigley. It was unreal. That was the first time I pitched on a big league mound. I actually took some of the ivy off the wall (laughs). I still have it back home. That was a really cool experience for me.”
The 2015 season saw Manoah earn First Team ABCA Rawlings and Under Armour All-American honours. He hit .492 with five home runs and 32 runs batted in but it was his talent on the mound that led being ranked by Perfect Game as the number three pitcher in Florida.
Also helping Manoah develop in his early years was getting to play baseball all year round in Florida.
“It’s great. There really is no off-season. You literally go into the fall season and the winter is the actual season and you have travel season in the summer so you’re just constantly always playing. It’s good to be able to develop at a young age. Most of the guys down there in the warmer states are pretty advanced because they get to play more often and outside. I think it really helped me advance early on for my future years.”
Erik Manoah was able to make the jump from South Dade to the professional level as he was drafted by the New York Mets in the 13th round of the 2014 draft. Drawing upon Erik’s experiences has been a huge help for Alek.
“It was extremely important for me. I think he kind of opened the door for me when he was getting recruited and he was getting scouted. Some of the guys that were recruiting him, he has a ‘little big brother’ and they kind of started to take notice with me.
He was able to open the door for me and obviously helped guide me through my first two years at West Virginia and last year. We still talk everyday about stuff. Just being able to kind of let me know how it is at the next level so I can be prepared for when I get here.”
Erik was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Fernando Salas in 2016 and was named a Midwest League All-Star in 2017. He was let go by the Angels last year and e finished up the year with the Texas AirHogs of the independent American Association. Alek is hoping he will find his way back to affiliated ball.
“He’s throwing the ball really well. He’s had five quality starts in the past six outings (as of mid-August). He’s throwing the ball really well. He’s just staying positive and just waiting for that next opportunity.”
Morgantown = Manoah Town
Manoah decided to play college ball in West Virginia and says there is one reason why he wound up in Morgantown.
“The coaching staff. They were really heavily recruiting me. They showed more interest than all the other schools and the biggest thing that stood out was it was a promising program for me.
I wanted to be a part of something that was being built, that was going to be there. It was going to be the first time they did a bunch of things. The first time going to regional in 27 years, the first time hosting a regional, things like that. That’s what I wanted to be a part of and I just kind of had faith in the coaching staff that that would happen. I bought into the dream before I even got there and you know, we were able to accomplish a bunch of those things.
Just the way they run the program as well, it’s a really family-oriented culture around the team. Being able to feel that, especially being 17 hours away from home, being able to feel like you’re around family everyday was something that was important for me so that was the biggest thing.”
One thing Manoah did not get to use too much when he arrived on campus was a baseball bat. He had just one hit, two walks and a run scored in his limited plate appearances over the first two seasons.
“I two-wayed a little bit in college. I miss hitting batting practice but I don’t miss hitting in the game. (laughs) I couldn’t hit very well in college. Batting practice was what I enjoyed the most.
Late in high school, I was still about 50-50. Even in college, I knew I was going to be a pitcher but I still had the hitting there. There’s only so much you can do with pitching. You can’t throw a baseball 24/7 but you can always take swing after swing after swing. I was really focused on hitting but obviously pitching as well. This past year, this past season, I gave up the bat and fully went on to just pitch and it worked out pretty well.”
Manoah was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman squad in 2017 after recording an earned run average of 3.07 while collecting a pair of saves over 19 appearances, 10 as a starter.
The 2018 season did not start off as well as his ERA went up by nearly a run.
“It was the middle of my sophomore season. I think I made maybe eight or nine starts in the beginning and I was kind of just very mediocre, probably even worse that mediocre. I think when I got sent to the bullpen, it was kind like of an eye-opener for me. I’m kind of a guy that just shows up and works really hard everyday. It doesn’t matter, the results. I kind of got a little result-oriented there.
I remember calling my Mom and telling her like, ‘Man, this is terrible. I just got sent to the bullpen. I’m like ‘I’m not a bullpen guy.’ I remember telling her ‘I don’t even want to pitch right now.’ I was just at a really down point. Adversity was hitting me pretty good and she was kind of just telling me like ‘Hey, you’ve never been somebody to complain. You’ve never been somebody to run from your problems. Go to practice tomorrow. Just do everything you can everyday and in the long run, it’ll work out.’
So I think right there, it kind of changed my mindset a little bit and then I just tried to be the best bullpen guy that I could be. Instead of complaining that I was in the bullpen, just be the best bullpen guy I could be. I was a pretty good closer for us to finish that season and I got my ERA back down. I was able to strike some guys out and I think going into the summer, that kind of gave me some good, positive confidence.”
Cape Cod / Canadians Angle
The momentum would carry into the summer of 2018 when Manoah went to the Cape Cod League. He struck out a league-leading 48 batters with a 2.70 ERA in 33-1/3 innings for the Chatham Anglers.
“That was amazing for me. Once again, the coach and the people in that town. It was literally like a movie. It actually is a movie, Summer Catch. The white picket fences, the people are so nice and the town was so nice and the food is great. You’re playing with a bunch of really good guys.
I think we probably had about eight guys going in the Top 100 off that team in the draft. Just being able to be around guys like that and feed off of that, that positive energy and that work ethic and being able to help guys as well was really important for me going into my junior year.”
Future Canadian teammate Will Robertson mentioned facing Manoah during their time on the Cape but Manoah remembered going up against another future C’s player.
“I might have faced Will. I’m not sure if it was Will but I know I faced Tanner Morris quite a few times because he played for the crosstown rivalry kind of thing because Chatham and Harwich are literally 10 minutes from each other. We played each other quite a bit. I think I pitched against them twice. I got the best of him each time. (Laughs) We talk about that a lot. It was pretty fun times.”
Big Man of the Big 12
Looking to build on his strong showing in the Cape, Manoah was set to have his best season ever.
“I didn’t even make Big 12 Preseason All-Conference so I kind of looked at that and I was like, ‘Okay. Well, I’m a projected high pick but I’m still, I’ve always just been blue-collar, you know. Just work as hard as you can and everything will take care of itself.’
Baseball America had me like Preseason All-American or something like that but I was able to just ignore that because quite frankly, I can’t write any articles like that. I can’t choose who drafts me and I can’t choose who’s talking about me and this or that. The only thing I can really control is just how I throw the baseball. So I kind of just control what I can control and just try to throw the baseball as best as I could and just let everything else kind of take care of itself.”
Manoah had his sights set on the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year award.
“It was one of my goals actually. I had an interview before the season and I remember telling the guy, I think his name was Dan, ‘If I do what I’m supposed to do, then I’ll win Big 12 Pitcher of the Year.’ Especially with guys like Nick Lodolo (seventh overall pick by Cincinnati in 2019), there were a bunch of guys, the reliever from Baylor (Kyle Hill – 10th round pick by Seattle in 2019), I don’t think he gave up a run in conference (play). Texas Tech had a pitcher (Caleb Kilian – eighth round pick by San Francisco in 2019) who won seven games in conference as well in seven starts.
I remember talking with (Mountaineers head coach Randy) Mazey about it. We were kind of having a conversation in the Big 12 Tournament before we came out. I was like, ‘Man, you think I’m going to win this thing? Because it’s done now so now the results are in.’ So I started thinking about it a little bit. I was like, ‘Man, you think I can win it?’ He was like, ‘Well, you know, there’s the kid from Baylorwho hasn’t given up a run. There’s a kid from Texas Tech who has seven wins in conference.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s kind of not what I wanted to hear!’ I just kind of wanted him to say like (laughs), ‘Yeah, I think you got it!’
He told me at the end, he was like, ‘Hey, If you don’t win it, there’s something going on. There’s something wrong.’ I remember him texting me later that night. I got goosebumps actually. He texted me later that night, he goes, ‘There wasn’t a coach in the Big 12 that didn’t vote for you.’ And I was like, ‘There was a guy who didn’t give up a run in conference and there was a guy who won seven games and every coach thought that I should have been the pitcher (of the year).’
It was pretty special for me, especially when you set out to achieve your goals and then to actually be able to achieve it and have it there and have that trophy is something you can never take away from me.”
Mechanical changes and a new mental approach fuelled Manoah’s success in his junior campaign.
“There were a few things. Changing my delivery a little bit. I went from the windup, I took the windup away and I’m just completely from the stretch every pitch. It doesn’t matter if there’s runners on base or not. I kind of lifted my hands up a little bit which allowed my arms to be a little more free and get more extension throughout my delivery.
I think the biggest thing was kind of just mentally not trying to be too (caught up in the moment) much when there’s a lot of hype and stuff around you, it’s easy to get caught up in that and live up to other people’s expectations. I write down my goals and I try to just achieve my goals and live up to my expectations and as long as I’m happy with myself, it doesn’t really matter what other people’s expectations are or anything like that.
Just mentally, being able to control what I can control and understand that adversity is a part of the game and it’s going to happen to everyone but it’s how you react to it. I think after that sophomore season going into the Cape, I was able to put together a really strong mental routine and mentality throughout games and throughout the season and it kind of just helped me put it all together.”
The West Virginia Mountaineers reached new heights during Manoah’s three years in Morgantown as they reached the NCAA playoffs in his freshman and junior campaigns.
“I get goosebumps talking about it again. My freshman year, we made a regional at Wake Forest and made it to the championship game in that regional. It was unreal, going to (that) regional was kind of just special for us but this time around, Mazey always tells us, ‘Alright, the way to host a regional is by making a regional. And once you make a regional, the next step is to host one.’ It’s really hard to go and beat somebody in another regional. We made it through the championship game. It’s really hard to host your first regional and win that one as well because it’s your first host. It’s a good stepping stone for the rest of the program.
Just the atmosphere, we had about 5,000-5,500 people there and on top of that, we have a really big hill behind our stadium in right field and there were about another 1,000 people up there watching the game. The buzz around town, just the buzz everywhere. Going to the gas station to grab an energy drink, people were like, ‘Hey man! Good luck tonight!’ There was just a bunch of stuff, it was just unbelievable the amount of buzz that was around us as a team. Just stuff that was never done before by a baseball team in West Virginia who, six or seven years ago, didn’t even have a locker room, now we’re hosting a regional.”
That concludes Part 1 of this C’s Chat with Alek Manoah. Click here for Part 2 which looks at his MLB draft experience and his first season in pro ball with the Canadians.