Matt Manning, the Tigers’ first-round pick in last June’s baseball draft, will stick at the team’s Tigertown complex indefinitely rather than join Single-A West Michigan as had been anticipated.
The Tigers want Manning, 19, to work on pitching basics they say have been slower to develop because of his past history as a two-sport prep star whose time and talents had been spent equally on basketball and baseball.
“He’s healthy and throwing fine,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers’ vice president of player development who has the final say on minor-league assignments.
“He’s still throwing hard. He has a great breaking ball, and he had a tremendous amount of success last summer (rookie Gulf Coast League). There’s a possibility he might be there (low Single A) later on. But taking everything into account, it seemed to make more sense to keep him in extended spring training and keep working on things.”
Manning is 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, throws right-handed, and is generally regarded as the Tigers’ top young prospect. He signed a $3.5 million deal with the Tigers, which kept him from Loyola Marymount, where he had initially accepted a basketball-baseball scholarship.
Manning got a limited taste of professional baseball last summer in the GCL, where he pitched 29 1/3 innings, allowed 27 hits and seven walks, and struck out a whopping 46 batters.
One of the Tigers’ attractions to Manning has also helped delay his 2017 Single A assignment. Manning had fewer innings than typical power-armed prep stars tend to have amassed as they leave high school and enter the draft.
While a low odometer can boost a pitcher’s longevity and minimize early arm problems, the flip side is that a pitcher enters professional baseball with less sophistication in his overall skill set.
Manning, in that respect, contrasts with Texas prep star Beau Burrows, who was a first-round pick by the Tigers in 2015 and instantly assigned last spring to West Michigan.
“Every individual is different,” Littlefield said. “In Beau’s case, he kind of came up through that whole baseball environment, the showcases, the private instructors, on and on, so some of that background helps you prepare for professional baseball.
“In Matt’s case, he’s an exceptional athlete who’s played some basketball but who hasn’t been thrown into some of the past rigors of the baseball world as much as most prospects.
“With a high school pitcher, it’s always a challenging decision, that first full season, determining whether they’re ready for the rigors. It’s why we try and keep an eye on innings pitched, on pitch-counts hoping to keep them healthy.
“But I don’t look at this as any kind of issue. The timing, right now, isn’t right. And Matt acknowledges that.”
Littlefield said it was still possible, if not probable, Manning later will be moved to a Single A stop, likely West Michigan or short-season Connecticut, which begins its schedule in June.