Jays select college pitcher with 1st-round pick

SEACAUCUS, N.J. – The Toronto Blue Jays went for size and strength with their first selection of this year’s MLB draft. Now they’re excited to see how those traits can translate to their pro ranks.

Toronto chose six-foot-six, 260-pound West Virginia right-handed pitcher Alek Manoah with the 11th overall pick Monday night.

“Alek’s really done a nice job with maintaining his body, his conditioning, his strength. He’s a really good athlete, especially for a bigger guy,” Blue Jays director of scouting Steve Sanders said on a conference call. “He simplified his delivery a little bit this year which we felt helps with the improved command and control not just of his fastball but of his secondary pitches and we certainly expect all of those things to be factors moving forward.

“But the combination of his stuff, his athleticism, his feel of pitch, his command and his makeup, we’re really confident in who he is as a person and the work he puts in on and off the field to reach his ceiling as a major league starter.”

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The Blue Jays drafted another six-foot-six right-hander with their second-round pick, choosing high school senior Kendall Williams at No. 52.

Williams, an 18-year-old from Olive Branch, Miss., attended IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and is committed to Vanderbilt University.

The 21-year-old Manoah was named the Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2019 after going 9-4 with a 2.08 earned-run average through 16 starts (108 1/3 innings) with the Mountaineers this season. He recorded 144 strikeouts and 27 walks in a season Sanders called impressive “wire to wire.”

“He really sort of rounded out his game,” he said. “We’re excited about the pitch mix that Alek brings to the table.”

Sanders added that Manoah, who split his sophomore 2018 year between the starting rotation and the bullpen, “improved on last season in a number of ways” after having a full year as a starter under his belt.

That improvement began over the summer, when Manoah pitched for the Chatham Anglers in the prestigious Cape Cod League, going 3-2 with a 2.70 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 11 walks over seven regular-season starts.

“(He) built on his success, which really started over the summer in the Cape Cod League … and carried it over really nicely into the spring season at West Virginia,” Sanders said.

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The Miami native throws three pitches — a fastball in the 94-97 m.p.h., according to MLB Pipeline, as well as a slider and change-up.

While he didn’t use the change-up very often at the college level, only mixing it in from time to time, Sanders called it a “really effective third pitch.”

“We really love what Alek brings to the table with his now stuff but do see room for him to continue to develop and continue to improve,” Sanders added. “I think he’s got a well-rounded three-pitch mix that’s going to play at the next level.”

Manoah first landed on the Blue Jays radar as a two-way high school player at South Dade High School in Florida. But he wasn’t drafted then — by the Blue Jays or any other team.

Sanders said Manoah’s development over the last few years made him an attractive option at this year’s draft.

“We really got a good look at him in the Cape Cod League where he performed, showed similar stuff with improved strikes and really put himself further on the radar,” Sanders said. “I think what we really like is that Alek continued to get better over the course of the spring. Obviously he was someone we saw early but really kind of blossomed in the middle-to-end of the spring and finished strong.

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“So I think the more we watched him the more we liked him and thought really throughout the spring he was someone who was going to potentially factor for us with this pick.”

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