Since Ross Atkins became the Blue Jays manager back in the 2015 offseason, the team has had their fair share of successes and failures when it comes to the their first round selections in the MLB Draft. Most of the credit should be given to the Jays scouting department and cross-checkers for their diligent work but Atkins is the one to sign off on the decisions at the end of the day.
Players like T.J. Zeuch and Logan Warmoth have yet to pan out at the Major League level (Zeuch also was traded last year) while Nate Pearson has the hype but injuries have unfortunately hampered his transition to the MLB stage. On the flip side, Atkins and co. have also made some fantastic choices, like selecting Jordan Groshans with their first pick in 2018 or Austin Martin in 2020 when he slipped to pick #5. In his first season at the helm, the Jays selected Bo Bichette in the second round, although there is some wild tales around how the Jays scouting department had to convince Atkins to draft a prep star with such a high selection.
History set aside, it appears that one of the best draft picks under Ross Atkins within recent memory comes via 2019, when the Blue Jays selected right-handed starter Alek Manoah from West Virginia University.
The first two years at WVU saw Manoah split time between the bullpen and the rotation, making 42 appearances but only 18 starts. It wasn’t until he went to the Cape Cod League that he set himself apart, crafting a 2.70 ERA through seven starts in one of the toughest collegiate summer leagues in the country. He returned to the Mountaineers for his Junior year and dominated, starting 16 games and finishing the year with a 2.08 ERA, two complete games, a 0.905 WHIP, and a 12.0 K/9.
After being selected by the Jays, he finished out the year in A ball with the Vancouver Canadians and spent all of 2020 at the alternate training site due to the cancelled MiLB campaign. He then impressed during the 2021 Spring Training camp and after three fantastic starts with the AAA Bisons squad, he was called up to the Jays roster in late May.
Since his debut, Manoah has been an absolute animal on the mound for the Blue Jays. He made 20 starts last season and finished with a 3.22 ERA with 127 strikeouts. Although a bit wild on the mound, evident by his league high 16 hit batters, Manoah was fantastic for the Jays down the stretch and I believe could have been a real difference maker had he started the season in Toronto. The Blue Jays were so close to making the postseason last year, falling one game short, and I truly do believe had he started the year in the MLB he could have added a few more wins and helped the overall record to push the Jays into October baseball. The Florida product also did not gain too much traction in Rookie of the Year voting due to his later call-up but he definitely took home the honours internally for the Jays.
Selected in the first round in 2019, Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah is quickly becoming a star on the MLB stage and one of Ross Atkins top draft picks in recent memory.
Fast forward to this season and the real test was set for the 6’6” right hander, as teams now had more tape and a better understanding of his pitches on the mound. So far however, Manoah continues to dominate, winning each of his starts this season and holding opponents to just 15 hits and four earned runs through 25.0 innings. He’s also crafted a 9.0 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9 and is currently in the high percentiles (80% or above) in xwOBA, xERA, xBA, and XSLG while also sitting in the 79th percentile in chase rate.
Another impressive feat is that Manoah is doing all of this while facing top teams both in the American League and within the division. He blanked the Boston Red Sox last night through seven innings and he also limited the New York Yankees to just one hit through 6 IP on his first start of the year at Yankee Stadium.
Although the sample size is small considering his debut was only last year, he has stepped up to the challenge of any team in his way, which is great to see in such a strong division like the AL East. He also has embraced the city of Toronto, going to Raptors games and appears to be loving the city, which is always a plus for Jays fans to see.
Alek Manoah has easily been one of the top draft picks since Ross Atkins took office and the team is surely better with him on the squad.