Before the Detroit Tigers took Casey Mize 1st overall last June, Matt Manning was considered the top pitching prospect in this farm system. Mize might’ve taken that title, but Manning is doing all he can to remain in the conversation. This season has been the best one yet for the former #9 overall pick. In 10 starts, Manning has dominated to the tune of a 2.10 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, and 11.3 K/9. Outside of the strikeout rate, all of those numbers are career-highs for Manning. Most noteworthy is the walk rate which has almost been cut in half from last season.
The 2019 season has been one dominant outing after another for Manning and last Tuesday was no different. He carried a no-hitter through 5.2 innings and ended the evening with an even 10 strikeouts. His dynamic arsenal was on full display in this one and that’s what we’re going to dive into below.
Final Line: 6.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 10 K
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Matt Manning Scouting Report
Height: 6’6 | Weight: 215 | Throws: R | DOB: 1/28/98 | Drafted: 2016, Round 1, Pick 9 from Sheldon High School (Sacramento, CA)
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) May 21, 2019
Working off the left side of the pitching rubber, Manning starts with his right foot on the rubber and left foot slightly off and in front. He uses a waist-high leg kick and uses his strong push leg to create good extension in his delivery to home plate. He uses a 3/4 arm slot and hides the ball well behind his body before beginning his movement towards home. The arm speed is plus and is generated without much effort in his delivery.
Over the last year or two, Manning has cleaned up his mechanics and is now able to repeat his delivery very well. This has led to improved command of his arsenal as well.
Matt Manning Arsenal (With Scouting Grades)
Do you know when you take a bite of something that continues to get better and better with each bite? That was Manning with his fastball during this outing. After an inconsistent first inning or two, Manning really locked in with his fastball command and increased his velocity a little bit as the game progressed, hitting 97 with regularity in the later innings and topping out at 98 mph on a couple pitches. In addition to the high velocity, Manning’s heater also features some solid arm side run which is a real problem for right-handed batters.
Inning by inning velocity from Casey Mize and Matt Manning's starts I was at on Monday and Tuesday. Both were able to maintain their velocity throughout their starts. Mize threw his fastball 40.4% of the time, Manning 68.8% of the time.#MiLB #MotorOn pic.twitter.com/2jLTdSvotb
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) May 23, 2019
As soon as Manning locked in with his fastball, it was like watching a pitching clinic. He was locating to both sides of the plate for strikes and would go upstairs with 97-98 gas to put hitters away. As you can see above, Manning is able to maintain his velocity deep into starts and was still hitting 96-97 with his last few fastballs of the evening. When he’s commanding his fastball well, it has proven to be a difficult pitch for hitters from both sides of the plate to make solid contact on. And if you get to two strikes and try to chase his high cheese, good luck. That’s something Sergio Alcantara figured out below when Manning threw him four straight fastballs for the strikeout with the final pitch being 97 mph up in the zone with arm side run.
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) May 21, 2019
There have been a lot of nicknames given to the curveball over the years. The yakker, the hook, Uncle Charlie, the bender, and the hammer are some of the more common ones. The last one of that bunch is exactly the type of curveball Matt Manning uncorks on helpless Eastern League hitters. By my count, 20 of his 96 pitches in this outing were curveballs. And outside of a few of them, they all were impressive. Like this one below for instance that was so filthy it sent Arvicent Perez to the 7-day IL. Well, not really, but Perez is actually on the IL now.
Manning will sit mostly in the 79-81 mph range with his curveball with strong 1-7 break. He’ll throw the pitch more to right-handed batters than lefties, but has the confidence to throw that hammer to any hitter in any count and can throw it for strikes when needed. With the movement, velocity difference, and command Manning has shown with the pitch, this an easy plus curveball and is in the discussion for one of the best curveballs in the minor leagues.
This pitch has been crucial in Manning’s development. The fastball and curveball have always been his bread and butter, but the development of his changeup has helped Manning ascend to new heights and entrench himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Thrown in the 86-88 mph range, Manning is able to get strong arm-side fade on the pitch with some vertical drop as well. However, his command of the pitch still needs some refinement. Manning will mostly throw his changeup to left-handed batters due to how much the pitch fades away from then. When he can start it over the plate and have it fade to the outside corner or even off the outside corner, that’s when Manning generates a lot of weak contact or swinging strikes.
Below is a two-pitch sequence where Manning threw back to back changeups, one for a strike and the other off the outside corner. You can see the strong fade Manning got on both pitches and and a lot of hitters would probably swing at the second one. If Manning can continue to refine his changeup command, this could turn into a third plus pitch for him due to the movement and velocity difference from his fastball.
Along with the development of his changeup, Manning’s improved command has been a big reason why he’s been able to dominate like he has this season. If you look at the stats I posted near the top, you’ll see that Manning’s walk rate has dropped from 4.4 in 2017 to 3.9 in 2018 and way down to 2.1 so far in 2019. A drop from 4.4 to 2.1 is huge. That’s what separates the good from the great. Sure, you can be effective with a 4.4 walk rate, but how many top of the rotation starters do you see with walk rates in the mid-fours? Not many.
On top of the improved control, Manning has refined his command as well. Throwing strikes is great and all, but throwing a fastball right down main street isn’t a good pitch just because it’s a “strike”. This is an area Manning has improved greatly over the last year and a half or so, especially through his first ten starts this season. Improved command has been huge for Manning and has increased the effectiveness of his entire arsenal. He’s not quite on Mize’s level with command/control, but it’s now gone from one of Manning’s weaknesses to more of a strength.
If you couldn’t tell from this article and my rants on Twitter, I’m incredibly high on Matt Manning. The improvements with his changeup and overall command have been huge and have really helped him ascend to the elite ranks of pitching prospects. As of now, he’s currently my #5 pitching prospect behind Mize, Forrest Whitley, MacKenzie Gore, and Jesus Luzardo, and a top-25 overall prospect.
With three potential plus pitches, including an elite fastball/curveball combination, and now above-average command, Manning has the arsenal and makeup to reach his upside of a top of the rotation starter. And the beautiful thing for Tigers fans is that he’ll likely be their #2 starter behind Mize. A 1-2 of Mize and Manning are what dreams are made of for Tigers fans and what nightmares are made of for opposing hitters. Don’t be surprised if Manning contends for Cy Young awards and strikeout crowns throughout his career. He’s one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and still improving which is the scary part.
Eric Cross is the lead MLB/Fantasy Baseball writer and MiLB prospect analyst for FantraxHQ and has been with the site since March 2017. In the past, he wrote for FantasyPros and FanSided. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) and a contributor in the best-selling Fantasy Baseball Black Book. For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.
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