Notes: Manoah's improvements; Hatch's role

February 21st, 2021

Even with the star power the Blue Jays added this offseason, and the clear postseason expectations in front of them, the club’s top prospects are still demanding plenty of attention early in camp.

, Toronto's No. 5 prospect, embodies both the challenge and intrigue involved with evaluating top prospects after a lost Minor League season. The towering right-hander and 2019 first-round pick hasn’t pitched in a game since '19, but the past 18 months have given him the opportunity to face Major League talent at the club’s alternate training site last season and in Spring Training.

From then to now, Manoah has become a different pitcher.

“In [Class A] Vancouver, I was able to blow guys away with the heater and put them away with a slider,” Manoah said. “Now, I'm able to throw changeups in the 3-2 count to a righty. I'm able to throw changeups in 1-2 counts, 1-1 counts, 2-1 counts. I'm able to throw different variations of the slider and fastballs in different locations.”

This is a key hurdle in development for hard-throwing pitching prospects. Up to a certain point, even if they’re not throwing their best fastball, it’s enough to overwhelm hitters at the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. Even triple-digit heat gets hit in the Major Leagues, though, if a pitcher isn’t spotting it.

Down at the alternate training site last summer, Manoah was able to face hitters far more advanced than those he saw in short-season ball in 2019. The left-handed hitters were particularly valuable for Manoah, who, in between pitches and in between innings, would pepper them for information on what they saw.

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“I got great feedback and that was amazing, because at the alternate training site we had guys like Reese McGuire, Derek Fisher, Forrest Wall, Josh Palacios -- guys that are lefty hitters that can give me really good feedback on the changeup,” Manoah said. “You know, it’s like, ‘Hey, how's it coming out of the hand?' or [they’d say], ‘You kind of showed that one a little bit. The arm speed was good on that one.’ So being able to get that big league feedback was great for me.”

Just like No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson, Manoah is a big man. Standing at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, Manoah is the physical prototype for a starting pitcher, but all of that size means there’s more body to control. This is a balancing act at times, but one that Manoah is beginning to understand better.

Manoah is a self-described “visual guy,” feeling more comfortable with results and advice that he can see and work through physically. He’s started to benefit from incorporating some analytics, too, but maintaining strong fundamentals will always be key for a pitcher his size.

“Being this big, you’ve got to get all the limbs together at the right times to shoot at the right times, and sometimes you know the arm can be a little off or the hip might be a little off or the body might be a little bit forward,” Manoah said. “So it's just about, you know, watching a lot of video and just really loving my craft. I really love it. I built a really good mechanical base.”

Not one to lack confidence, Manoah has always been open about his expectations with the Blue Jays. He knows he’s part of the next wave, and he knows what the potential is.

“We work extremely hard to be able to go out there and represent Canada, and be able to bring a World Series back to Canada,” Manoah said. “It’s a lot of high expectations, but it's a lot of hard work that goes in, and to shoot for anything less, it just would be disrespectful.”

Hatch goes from sleeper to standout
In Summer Camp last July, pitching coach Pete Walker said that right-hander Thomas Hatch was the “sleeper of the group.”

Walker nailed that one. Hatch pitched to a 2.73 ERA as a rookie, and now that he’s being stretched back out as a starter in Spring Training, that opens up some doors given his mound presence and MLB-caliber arsenal.

"He's certainly a guy that has the ability to be an outstanding Major League starter,” Walker said.

It’s still possible that Hatch opens the season in a multi-inning relief role, where there will still be plenty of innings available, but he’s a strong bet to exceed expectations again this season.

Merryweather’s role still TBD
Julian Merryweather will be stretched out a bit in camp, but a bullpen role is still very much on the table. The talent is undeniably there, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit for it across 162 games.

“There's still the thought of him starting, for sure. With his pitch arsenal and the pitches that he can throw -- the fastball, curveball, changeup and slider -- he's got all the pitches you need,” Walker said. “It's really just a matter of him staying healthy, and obviously, us watching him and watching his workload. But right now, we're still deciding on that. We’ll stretch him out a little bit during Spring Training and we'll just make the adjustments accordingly. We saw it last year, he can be a big boost to a team.”

Luciano back on development track
Remember Elvis Luciano? Back in 2019, the Blue Jays made him a surprise Rule 5 Draft pick and carried him through the season in the bullpen, retaining his full rights. Now 21, Luciano has filled out physically and will be given every opportunity to develop as a starter.

“He’s still got tremendous upside,” Walker said. “He’s got the ability to throw a mid-90s fastball and a great changeup to control bat speed, and his slider has progressed, so I think we'd be kind of foolish at his age to not continue to develop that slider and see what we get out of it. We know he could relieve at the big league level, but we still think he can be a starter, and the fact that we're in a position right now with a number of starters in that category, I think it gives us the ability to do that.”