Striking out nine batters in just three innings is an incredible accomplishment. Having done it twice in one week is downright shocking.
Enter Matt Manning, the Tigers No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. The 20-year old right-hander turned heads across Minor League Baseball when he struck out the sides in the first, second, and third innings of his 2018 debut with Class-A West Michigan.
The Tigers have been careful not to rush Manning, the clubs’ first-round choice (9th overall) in the 2016 MLB Draft, through their system. After spending his first professional season in the Gulf Coast League, Manning was expected to begin 2017 in West Michigan, but Tigers brass decided during the final week of Spring Training that more seasoning was needed, and he remained in Lakeland before reporting to short-season Connecticut. It wasn’t until last August when Manning made his Class-A debut and was promptly roughed up 11 runs in 6.2 innings during his first three games. In his final three starts (one in the postseason), Manning allowed just one run on nine hits in 16 innings with 25 (!!!) strikeouts in a clear indication that he was ready for Midwest League competition.
Manning’s 2018 debut was impressive, but what he said the day after was stunning. It turns out the right-hander had accomplished the feat before, “I actually did it in my last start,” Manning said, referring to an extended spring training game against Atlanta earlier that week.
That being said, Manning’s regular-season debut came with a caveat: his fourth inning. The California native began to tire and struggled, making his final line less impressive than it looked:
3.2 IP, 2H, 3R, 3BB, 10K
Typically, a minor league pitcher is limited to around 75 pitches in his first start, but once you investigate, you can understand why the No. 55 prospect in baseball (MLB Pipeline) faltered in the fourth. Having missed three weeks of spring training with an oblique strain and throwing just 61 pitches in his start the previous weekend in Lakeland, running into trouble was inevitable. We choose to focus on his first three innings and expect him to get his sea legs as the season continues.
So what changes did Manning make to increase his strikeout totals? It starts with distance.
In every professional baseball stadium, the pitcher’s mound is located exactly 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. Manning’s focus this offseason, which included starting his throwing program earlier to be more prepared, involved focusing on using his elite athleticism to allow him to take advantage of his 6’6” frame. In doing so, Manning shortened the distance between himself and the hitter. It’s how Manning’s fastball can travel much quicker than the 92-94 mph radar gun suggests. Combined with a high spin rate, there will be plenty of strikeouts in Manning’s future, and maybe even an increase in velocity as he matures.
Believe it or not, Manning isn’t even the tallest person in his own family. His father, Rich, stands 6’11” and played for three seasons in the NBA after being selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the 1993 NBA Draft from the University of Washington.
As for Manning’s objective in the days ahead, “Just get deeper into games,” Manning said. “I want to keep doing what I’m doing, not lose focus and stay sharp on the mental side of the game.”
After waiting almost two years, it looks as if the Tigers patience in Matt Manning is about to pay off in a big way.