With his college career completed, the next step for Manoah was the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft. He had a lot of company to watch the draft with him.
“The last day of our regional or the day before, everybody was consulting with each other and things like that and then just everybody wanted to be with me on draft day. That was kind of everybody’s priority which is pretty special as a team to want to be there for me.
It made me feel really good and (West Virginia head coach Randy) Mazey was like, ‘Hey man. Some of the guys want to get together. What do you want to do?’ I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know. They’re not all going to fit in my apartment.’ And he was like, ‘Hey, how about we bring everybody to my house, you know, basically for our last team meeting and just watch the draft?’ I was like, ‘Alright, sweet! Let’s do it!’ He kind of cooked some burgers and stuff and everybody went over there.”
The Texas Rangers expressed interest in drafting Manoah after his high school career in 2016 and they spoke with him again moments before the draft.
“The morning of the draft, I actually met with the Rangers. They came on pretty heavy as of late and we actually though we were going to go eight (eighth overall). Before the draft, I met with a few front offices. I met with the Rangers the day of the draft.
Prior to that, I met with the Blue Jays and the Braves. Every team that I met with had a higher pick than the Blue Jays but I remember meeting with the Blue Jays and texting my (advisor) and saying ‘Hey man, I think this is a really good fit for me. I think it’s a perfect fit for me.’ He responded and he goes, ‘Yeah, I think it is too. They feel the same way.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I really hope it happens.’
As far as Manoah was concerned, everything worked out in the end despite some anxious moments.
“Obviously I’m not going to complain going eighth overall or ninth overall but going 11 was what I originally wanted. I remember talking with (my advisor) about that. That was three or four weeks before the draft. So the Rangers came one as of late, all that stuff and then the draft came. We’re all just hanging out, eating burgers and sat on the couch and started watching all the pre-draft stuff and all that.
And then the picks started going and then around (pick) six, my (advisor) started texting me and goes, ‘The Rangers are out.’ In my head, I was kind of like ‘Are they out to make the pick?’ I was a little confused. I wasn’t sure. They went out of their way to meet with me this morning. So he was like, ‘No, I think they are going with a bat. They might be going with Josh Jung.’ I was like, ‘Alright, that’s fine.’ In my head, about two minutes later, ‘Boom! Josh Jung goes.’ I’m kind of like, ‘Okay, I kind of think I’m better than him!’ (Laughs) But whatever. No, I’m just messing around. I’m good friends with Josh.
So then my other (advisor) texted me and he goes, ‘Yeah, the Braves are about to make the same mistake!’ And I was like, ‘Man, it is what it is.’ It’s not a mistake, I’m meant to be where I’m meant to be.’
So I didn’t go at nine so now I kind of have some sort of (thought) just going on in my hand like, ‘Am I going to be one of those guys that falls really late on draft day?’ Like in the NFL, guys that are supposed to go really high goes ends up going 17th overall or something like that. And I am just like, ‘Am I going to be one of those guys? I’m just like, man!'”
The Pick Is In
Then Manoah got the good news he was waiting for.
“Next thing I know my phone rings. My (advisor) calls me and he’s like, ‘Hey, man. The Rangers and Braves passed up on you. It’s all good, man. We just agreed to a deal with the Blue Jays at 11, just like you wanted.’
I started to smile a little bit and then I was like, ‘Oh man, this is going to be awesome.’ He was like, ‘Are you ready?’ And I was like ‘Hell yeah, I’m ready!’ And he was like, ‘Alright man, I’ll wait for your name to be called. They’ll probably call you after the draft.’ I was like, ‘Alright.’
After getting the word he was going to be drafted by Toronto, Manoah thought about how he was going to break the news to everyone at his draft part.
“I hung up the phone and then I just kind of sat there and everybody was looking at me. They were like, ‘What’s going on?’ Nobody really said anything to me until my brother (Erik) looked at me and he goes, ‘So dude, are you going to say something?’ (Laughs)
And I was just like, ‘Hey man, watch the TV!’ He was like, ‘Come on, man!’ And I was like, ‘Just watch the TV.’ And he goes like, ‘Alright!’
The Braves took (Shea) Langeliers, another Big 12 player, a really good catcher. And then the Giants came on and they’re like, ‘Alright, the pick is in.’ So everybody took their phones out, everyone was ready for me being taken. I’m just sitting there, like in my head, ‘They have no clue! This isn’t it. They think this is it?’ (Laughs)
The pick goes in and it was Hunter Bishop, another really good player. I played against him in the Cape and all that. And everybody was just like, ‘Awwwww!’ I wish I could see those videos with like the ‘Awww! Here we go!’
The first person to receive a clue about Manoah’s draft destination was his brother Erik.
“So I just sat there and everybody was kind of just like, ‘We know he got a phone call. What’s going on here?’ So my brother looked at me. He was like, ‘Just give me something.’ I whispered in his ear the slot value of what I was getting. We had agreed to slot. I just whispered in his ear the slot value. And of course he goes on his phone. He turns the video recorder off and he goes on his phone and he goes to Baseball America (for) the draft bonus pools and slots. So once he knew the slot, he knew exactly where I was going. He was like, ‘Alright, I got it.’ Don’t say nothing!
So we were just sitting there, whatever, and then I see the Blue Jays pick is in. When you’re growing up, you dream of that moment, that day happening. You hear your name in your head. Like you’re going to bed at night and you just hear the commissioner say your name, ‘Alek Manoah, with the first round pick.’ You know, this and that. I just started replaying that in my head a lot as that moment was about to happen. It just kept replaying and replaying.”
When Manoah heard his name announced at the draft podium, his dream was realized.
“I’m sitting there and I just wanted to cry. I just kind of put my hands on my head and I was like, ‘Don’t show my emotions yet! Nobody knows!’ When I went like that, my coach kind of just tapped me because I guess he knew. He knows me. So he knew that was it.
And then, I kind of just looked up, they called my name. Everybody went crazy. I hugged my Mom and my brother, hugged all of them, just watched the rest of the draft, that was it.
I got to see some of my other buddies get drafted, especially some guys on our agency. We had, I think, two other guys go in the first round as well. It was a pretty cool experience for everyone.”
Mount Manoah Joins Monty’s Mounties
After having thrown 108-1/3 innings in his junior season at West Virginia (more than double his workload from his sophomore campaign), Manoah had to wait until late July to make his professional debut and would be put on an innings limit. Despite having to wait a while to throw his first professional pitch, Manoah placed his faith in the Blue Jays in that they knew what was best for him.
“It was hard but just being able to go one day at a time, just understanding there’s a process to it, there’s a plan in place and obviously trusting the organization. They know what they’re doing. I trusted them three weeks before I even knew I was their pick. Just knowing that there was a plan in place and everything I was doing was going to lead up to coming here and being able to do good here.
Obviously I’m not throwing too much (in Vancouver) either so that’s going to lead into having a good spring training in the following year and being able to be nice and fresh and healthy for next year.”
The first destination of Manoah’s professional career saw him land in Vancouver. A 2018 Vancouver Canadian and fellow Miami native gave him a scouting report of what it was like to play at Nat Bailey Stadium.
“I just knew it was a really good atmosphere, a really good environment. My buddy Chris Bec played here. He was just like, ‘Man, it’s going to be the best atmosphere you play in until the big leagues. It’s kind of like playing in the big leagues in the minor leagues. I was like, ‘Alright. Well that’s awesome. That’s good to know.’
He told me the fans are extremely welcoming. The people here are extremely nice. A lot of the interactions I’ve had on social media have been with people from here or Canada in general. Everything’s been just so positive. I was extremely excited to come up here.”
Since being drafted by Toronto, Manoah has not been shy about expressing he’s “all in” when it comes to representing the Blue Jays organization.
“They take a lot of pride in me and a lot of trust in me picking me with a high pick. Obviously I want to be a part of this organization. I bought into the plan and into the development phase before they even drafted me.
I was kind of the same way in school. In West Virginia, we got to represent an entire state. The fan base was great there. The coaching in that entire state was amazing.
And it’s kind of the same thing here except that it’s an entire country. I’m just extremely excited I guess I would say in showing my pride for, obviously I’m not Canadian, but I want to represent the team well and represent myself as well and obviously my family. Just being able to do that in a positive way and be a good role model as well is something that’s big for me. I think using social media to do that is a good platform.”
Manoah On The Mound
Manoah’s pro debut saw him strike out two batters in a scoreless inning in Spokane July 27. He tossed two more shutout innings in his next in Tri-City August 2. The latter outing marked the start of a trend in which Manoah had to pitch the same day after enduring a long bus ride.
“They were good for me. I think, again tomorrow (August 20 in Tri-City), I got to get off the bus and pitch. I think it’s been three or the past four times, I’ve gotten off a bus and pitched. After the All-Star break, it was a flight actually because I pitched the first day off the All-Star break.
It’s something I’ve never done before. In college, we usually drive or fly a day before and get to rest and let your body decompress a little bit before going out and pitching on Friday. But it’s just something where you have to learn your body and learn the recovery phase and understand how to unwind a little bit.
I think I’ve learned how to do that quite a bit and I understand now how my body works after getting off a bus. I’m still trying to learn every time and get better every time.”
The Nat Bailey Stadium debut for Manoah came in his third outing when he faced the Everett AquaSox August 8. He made quite the impression, literally, on Patrick Frick when he hit the Frogs leadoff hitter with his very first pitch.
“I usually come in every first pitch. I like to come in on that part of the plate. I love to pitch in whether it’s lefties or righties and I throw a really good sinker to righties. That one just kind of got away from me a little bit but I think it kind of set the tone for the rest of the game that I let the other guys in the dugout know that I’m going to own that inside part of the plate. It’s kind of, ‘If you’re in the way, it kind of might hit you but if not, get out of the way.’
That’s where I’m going to live and it kind of makes hitters a little bit uncomfortable. I definitely don’t want to hit nobody obviously. You want to respect the opponent but being able to pitch inside is something (where) I can’t be scared to hit somebody, I have to be able to pitch in there if I’m going to win. I can’t just be a one-side-of-the-plate pitcher, that’s just not who I am.
I think being able to pitch in helps me open up the rest of the plate and hitter open up as well so I can own the outer half. I think that kind of set the tone and those guys I think were kind of, I think, a little uncomfortable at the plate knowing that I was going to come inside. It helped me have a good game.”
Helping Manoah settle in that night behind the plate was Philip Clarke who threw out two runners trying to steal. Manoah enjoyed throwing to the tandem of Clarke and Brett Wright.
“They’re really good. Phil works extremely hard at making a pitcher feel comfortable and that’s something that’s really important for pitchers. He does a great job with that and he calls a great game. Defensively, he’s great with the way he catches balls and throws them.
Brett does a lot of the same things. He’s more talkative. He kind of positively reassures you and all that stuff. If you’re kind of not throwing the ball where I want, he knows how to motivate you as well. His defensive skills are really good as well. He has a really strong arm. Working with both of those guys has been great.”
Getting to pitch in front of a packed house at the Nat was a moment to remember for Manoah.
“It was just extremely exciting. I got a bunch of good feedback before the game, interactions, stuff like that. Some of the guys were extremely excited for me and the team. It was extremely exciting to pitch on Canadian soil as well. It was extremely exciting. It kind of felt like my first home game at West Virginia again and I was extremely excited there. It was an extremely fun day for me.”
That game also saw Manoah reach 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, a career first.
“That was the first time. I heard about it after. I didn’t know when it was going on. I know it felt good, that’s about it.”
Most observers says Manoah throws three pitches but he arguably throws five.
“I throw two different fastballs. The two-seamer sinker and the four-seam and then I throw the changeup and the slider.
I have like an early on like in the count slider, just try to flip it in there and get a strike. And then I have a two-strike slider which is the same grip but it’s just the way that I throw it a little bit, the way that I release it that gives it different depth and different velocities.”
Manoah says he also has “a two-seam changeup” in his arsenal.
Even though Manoah can bring the heat, he realizes he needs to improve on his secondary offerings.
“I have a really live fastball, a really good fastball with good life on it and good movement. But something I’ve really been wanting to work on in this developmental phase is the off-speed. That was one of the things I’ve been speaking with our directors and stuff about it is in the next spring training.
I want to have my four pitches and being able to throw them in every count. This is a part of my process, just being able to throw those pitches. I think early on, I’m working on pitches. Once I got to my pitch limit, I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to blow fastballs by these guys!’
And then in that last inning, I threw 11 pitches, the last nine of them were fastballs. I told my pitching coach (Demetre Kokoris), I was like, ‘I could probably try and do that every time out but am I going to be getting better just throwing fastballs?’ I just want to work on everything while I’m here.’
Before getting ready to throw the first pitch of an inning, Manoah goes throw a routine to get himself ready.
“I say a little prayer that kind of before you’re kind of just warming up and then right after that, it’s kind of where I just turn on my game mode kind of thing. It’s just some mental cues that I just like to pray to God that, you know, keep me safe and keep me strong and help me and guide me to throw a good inning.
And then I just do my stretch and right when I turn around, you know, it’s game time so it’s kind of just like little mental cues just to keep me locked in.”
Another ritual of Manoah takes place after he completes an inning.
“I feed off great energy and I like to bring great energy in the dugout as well. That’s why I run off the mound. You don’t see most pitchers run off the mound but I think running off the mound brings good energy into the dugout for the offence.
That’s something I strive to do is just have good energy in the dugout and let them know that I’m playing for them. When they know that, I think they play for me as well. That’s something I strive off of.”
The hardest-throwing pitcher to arrive on the scene at Nat Bailey Stadium since Nate Pearson in 2017, Manoah hopes to follow in Big Nate’s footsteps in their quest to reach the big leagues.
“That’s the plan, to be on that same path. Obviously, he’s going to pitch in the big leagues for a long time. The plan is there for me to be right there with him along with some of the other guys that we have in the organization.
I think it’s going to be a pretty exciting time for the team once all our pitching gets there and we develop pitching. You put that together with the great hitting that we have, it’s going to be pretty fun.”
Being in the Toronto rotation—not the bullpen—is Manoah’s end goal.
“I think my stuff is really good to be a starter. My durability is great. I’ve proven I can throw 125 pitches multiple times throughout the season. And I’ve proven to get better as the games go and that’s what most starters do.
Putting me in the bullpen would be a waste of eight other innings that I can throw. That’s something that I think my stuff plays and my durability and my conditioning plays there.
I’ve worked on my walks. I’m not walking many guys anymore and commanding every quadrant of the plate. Checking all the boxes that starters need to check and I’m going to continue to keep checking them as my career goes on so I can stay where I’m at.”
Full-season level baseball is where the 22 year-old Manoah will be at in 2020 and it’s possible he may skip over Lansing and pitch in Dunedin when April rolls around.
Thanks a million to Alek Manoah for being incredibly generous with his time in this doubleheader of C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @Alek_Manoah47. Another million thank yous to C’s Media Relations Assistant Jordy Cunningham for arranging the interview.