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Manoah sees Blue Jays as a 'perfect fit'

@baseballexis
June 15, 2019

It’s the perfect fit. Over many months and games with the West Virginia Mountaineers, Alek Manoah got to know Coulson Barbiche, the Blue Jays scout based in his area. In their first meeting, the young right-hander and the talent evaluator bonded over a similar sense of pride in their handshakes,

It’s the perfect fit.

Over many months and games with the West Virginia Mountaineers, Alek Manoah got to know Coulson Barbiche, the Blue Jays scout based in his area.

In their first meeting, the young right-hander and the talent evaluator bonded over a similar sense of pride in their handshakes, which still stands out in Manoah’s mind through the evolution of their relationship. Eventually, Barbiche introduced the Miami native to Toronto’s scouting director and assistant general manager -- and a week ahead of being the Blue Jays’ first-round pick in this year’s Draft, he met with even more front-office members.

Immediately following that meeting, Manoah sent Jeff Randazzo, his agent with Ballengee Group, a foresightful message.

“[Barbiche and I] built a good relationship,” Manoah said during a conference call following his official signing on Thursday. “The night I met him in the fall -- he’s not the biggest guy -- when I first shook his hand, he’s got a good grip. I take a lot of pride in my handshakes and I could tell he does, too. He’s got a real good handshake. That’s an ongoing joke I’ve had with him.

“Since [then], we’ve built a good relationship -- seeing him at multiple games, seeing Tony [LaCava] and Steve [Sanders], the assistant GM and scouting director, at a couple games, and got good feedback from them. I met with the front office before the Draft and literally texted my agent when I finished that meeting, ‘I think this is the perfect fit for me.’ And they agreed.”

The Blue Jays had their eyes on the 6-foot-6, 260-pound right-hander since his position-playing days at South Dade Senior High School in Miami, but it was Manoah’s success in the Cape Cod League last summer and in the rotation with the Mountaineers this spring that impressed Toronto enough to make him the 11th player taken off the Draft board.

Though there were some rumours early that Manoah might be selected by other organizations as the picks continued, the 21-year-old couldn’t be happier to join the Canadian franchise.

“It’s the best opportunity for me,” he said. “There’s an entire organization not only backing me, but the entire country -- and there are nothing but nice people. There’s a kid here who’s here [in Dunedin] with me now, [free-agent signee and Burlington, Ont., native Alex Nolan], and he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.

“So if Canadians are anything like him, I’m extremely excited to get over there and meet some of those people and play in front of them for a long time.”

Manoah’s repertoire features a power fastball and a hard slider, along with a changeup that he didn’t use much throughout the 2019 season with the Mountaineers -- for whom he went 9-4 with a 2.08 ERA in 108 1/3 innings over 16 starts, with 27 walks and 144 strikeouts -- but is a pitch the Blue Jays look forward to seeing more of.

While Manoah’s size would put him among a small class of Major League starters who have had success with similar heights and weights -- Michael Pineda, Justin Masterson and CC Sabathia are a few comparable players -- he simplified his delivery this year at West Virginia to help him remain in the rotation.

“I’m a pretty big kid, and it’s not easy to get all these long limbs and body parts in sync at times,” Manoah said. “So I had a windup and I found myself having trouble doing that, so I simplified [my delivery] to just [pitch] out of the stretch. … From the stretch, I also found that I’m able to load my hips better, as well, so I’m able to keep my velocity from that position and I’m able to stay more consistent and more direct towards the plate.

“I know I’m big. I don’t try to confuse myself and try to be a little guy or one of these athletic pitchers. I know what works for me, and that was one of the biggest things for me was trying to simplify things to be more consistent with my arm angles, with my release points; my direction towards the plate.”

Excited to begin his career down on Toronto’s farm, Manoah already has some familiarity with the professional realm after seeing his brother Erik spend parts of six seasons in the Minor Leagues with the Mets and Angels -- before being released in May -- and has learned a lot that he believes will help him.

“As a brother and as a baseball player, he’s an extremely huge role model for me,” Manoah said. “Just seeing everything he’s gone through. He took a different route than I did, he went straight into the [pro] ranks as a high school player, and I went to college and developed a little bit before I got here.

“So just understanding that baseball is a hard game [is important], there’s going to be a lot of adversity, there’s going to be a lot of success. But, at the same time, you have to understand that you just have to get better every day. … Baseball’s a [sport where failure is involved]. You just have to learn how to bounce back and use that adversity and turn it into success.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.