We can't imagine there's any Blue Jays fan surprised to see Alek Manoah's name included on this list. And really, of the five players included, he's the one with the most to prove in 2024.
In this respect, unlike Kirk and Varsho, Manoah cannot blame any outside influence for the increased pressure on him next season. This is a situation entirely of his own making, no matter what information has been put out there in an attempt at damage control, e.g. claiming a potential injury stopped him from reporting to Buffalo after his second demotion.
This is about a 25-year-old getting past his ego and sense of entitlement, and actually being humble and disciplined enough to put the effort in. By turning up overweight for spring training this year, it alluded to him thinking he'd already made it after a spectacular 2022 campaign.
In this respect Manoah did indeed perform exceptionally, as he went 16-7 in 31 starts, producing a 2.24 ERA, 3.35 FIP and 0.992 WHIP in the process. He was named an All-Star for the first time, finished third in AL Cy Young voting and received some MVP consideration.
However, things couldn't have been more different this past season, as the righty came crashing back down to earth. He went from the opening day starter and staff ace, to being the only unreliable member of the regular rotation.
At one point it got so bad the Blue Jays sent Manoah down to the Florida Complex League, to work on his game. We would argue he was brought back up too fast but regardless, his situation just continued to spiral downwards and his season ended early in part due to his refusal to report to Buffalo, no matter what claims have been made since.
Now, it's a case of if the Homestead, Florida native can repair his relationship with the organisation and get back to performing at the high level he's (more than) capable of. As per videos shared by the Gate 14 Podcast, the early signs at least look promising, with him on Instagram being shown training in the gym.
As per The Athletic's Kaitlyn McGrath, It helps that general manger Ross Atkins says Manoah has the right to a strong leg up for a spot in the rotation, while Kevin Gausman stuck up for his teammate in a recent interview with the Foul territory Podcast. However, others can only help the pitcher so much; ultimately, it's up to him to prove he's capable of being both less egotistical and prepared to work hard enough to rediscover his previous form.