Even as the Tigers have worked to stockpile arms over the last several years, righthander Matt Manning has proven his worth.
Following a late move to Double-A Erie last season, the 21-year-old Manning returned to the Eastern League again in 2019.
“I thought he made really good strides last year, especially in the second half,” minor league pitching coordinator AJ Sager said. “The stuff’s always been good. We refined his breaking ball and tried to sharpen up his changeup. It was just a refining of everything.”
Manning mixes a mid-90s fastball that accelerates upwards of 97 mph, a power curveball and a changeup that projects to be average at the very least, if not better.
The 6-foot-6 Manning had sharpened his control dramatically in 2019, posting a career low walk rate of 2.6 per nine innings. Through 23 starts he went 11-4, 2.46 with 142 strikeouts in 128 innings.
Manning will mix his curve and heater with confidence, and while his changeup still lags, it too should continue to sharpen, as long as he looks to it regularly.
“The other thing that excites me is that once he makes an adjustment, he’s able to retain it and you don’t usually have to visit things over and over and over,” Sager shared. “You can coach him and then watch him develop, and he usually puts those things into play pretty quickly.
“What he does effectively is pitch up in the strike zone with his fastball, but it’s just been labeled a little bit different now where you talk about tunneling pitches. That’s basically coming out from the hitter’s standpoint where they look like they’re on the same plane, and he’s been able to do that through analytics, and then his curveball comes off that pitch nicely.”
With Manning leading the EL in strikeouts, Sager and the front office are excited about what’s ahead for the 2016 first-rounder, but they aren’t rushing to get him there.
“He’s producing and he’s young for this league,” Sager said. “In fact, he’s probably very young for this league, and the numbers suggest he’s handled it very well.”
— Second-year lefthander Tarik Skubal has a strong case as the organization’s minor league player of the year. The 22-year-old out of Seattle University was drafted in the ninth round in 2018. Since arriving at Erie, Skubal has struck out 10 or more batters in five of his seven Double-A starts.
— The Tigers are challenging 2019 first-round outfielder Riley Greene, and he’s proving that adaptation isn’t going to be an issue. The 18-year-old had already advanced to low Class A West Michigan after mastering the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season New York-Penn League. He had hit .279/.355/.408 overall through 46 games.