After multiple pitchers left Monday’s game against the Kansas City Royals due to injury, the Detroit Tigers made a flurry of roster moves prior to Tuesday evening’s matchup. However, the most interesting move is the one they haven’t made yet. Righthander Matt Manning, the Tigers’ No. 4 prospect in our preseason rankings, will make his MLB debut on Thursday in a start against the Los Angeles Angels.
Of Detroit’s “Big Three” pitching prospects, Manning is the last to make his MLB debut, but he has been in the organization the longest. The Tigers made him the No. 9 overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft, the second prep righthander taken after the recently retired Riley Pint. Manning, a particularly raw prospect coming out of high school, made a slow ascent through the lower minors, but jumped three levels in 2018, when he struck out 154 batters in 117 2⁄3 innings. He followed that up with a stellar full season at Double-A Erie in 2019, and would have been in line for a 2020 debut were it not for the shortened season due to COVID-19.
Manning has struggled a bit this year at Triple-A Toledo, with an 8.07 ERA in 32 1⁄3 innings. He has continued to flash his high-octane stuff, however, with 36 strikeouts to 10 walks in his first taste of Triple-A action. His most recent outing was one of his best to date, a six-inning, eight-strikeout performance against Cincinnati’s affiliate.
While still raw, Manning has the tools to be a frontline MLB starter. He has a long, lanky frame — expect Matt Shepard to mention his father, former NBA player Rick Manning, at least a dozen times on Thursday’s broadcast — and a smooth delivery. He has struggled at times with consistency in his mechanics, but has consistently posted strong numbers with plenty of strikeouts in the minor leagues.
Manning looks the part of a big league pitcher with his 6-foot-6 frame, athletic delivery and power stuff. He uses his size to create angle to the plate with his fastball, a consistent mid-to-upper-90s offering that topped out at 100 mph during Spring Training. Manning’s high-spin, downer curveball has long been a plus pitch for him, one that also plays nicely off his fastball, and he’s made noticeable strides in the last two years developing a changeup that could be above average. Manning’s ability to command his three-pitch mix is still in development, though he did demonstrate better control and command at Double-A (2.6 BB/9) in 2019 than he did the previous year (3.9 BB/9).
Expect Manning’s start on Thursday to be relatively short. He has maxed out at 80 pitches in all but one of his starts (his most recent one, notably), and can get a little wild at times. Even without Mike Trout, the Angels have a formidable lineup, and are one of the better teams in baseball against right-handed pitching. Manning may stick in the rotation for as long as Matthew Boyd is on the shelf, but it’s possible the Tigers bring him up for a single start before shuffling the roster again to add a more seasoned option to the mix.