One day after incredible heartbreak, former South Dade High pitcher Alek Manoah experienced the thrill of a lifetime.
Manoah wasn’t on the mound, but his West Virginia Mountaineers had an eight-run lead in the seventh inning of Sunday’s elimination game in their NCAA regional at Morgantown. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, West Virginia led by three runs and was one strike away from victory when Texas A&M’s Bryce Blaum hit a walk-off grand slam that will go down as one of the most painful plays in Mountaineers history.
But that was Sunday.
On Monday, Manoah and his entire team gathered at the home of WVU coach Randy Mazey. Manoah knew moments before the selection that the Toronto Blue Jays would take him with the 11th pick of the 2019 MLB Draft, but he kept it a secret from his teammates and even his mom, Susie.
“I wanted them to be surprised,” said Manoah, a 6-6, 260-pound right-hander. “My emotions are all over the place – excited, grateful.”
Manoah said he leaned on his faith in God to process Sunday’s heartbreak.
“It was extremely tough,” Manoah said. “My teammates and I have been together for the past three years, and we’ve helped build higher expectations for this program.
“There’s no reason to hang our heads. We hugged it out. This year will be remembered as one of the greatest in West Virginia history if not the greatest.”
Indeed, the Mountaineers hosted a regional for just the second time in school history and the first since 1955. WVU finished 38-22, two wins short of the school record, and the Mountaineers were nationally ranked for seven consecutive weeks, also a program first.
Manoah, the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year with his overpowering fastball and wipeout slider, became the first player in WVU history to strike out at least 15 batters in complete-game efforts on consecutive weeks. He had a scoreless streak of 34 1/3 innings, and he went 28 1/3 frames without walking a batter.
He finished the year 9-4 with a 2.08 ERA and became just the second WVU player ever drafted in the first round, joining right-hander Chris Enochs, who was also the No. 11 pick, in 1997. Batters hit just .186 against Manoah.
On Monday night, Manoah’s agent started getting calls around pick No. 8, from the Texas Rangers, and also the next two selections, the Braves and Giants.
All along, however, Manoah said he wanted to go to Toronto at No. 11.
“I met with (Blue Jays executives) two weeks ago, and I walked away thinking it was a perfect fit,” Manoah said. “I think they thought the same thing. God guided me to West Virginia, and I think the same thing happened with Toronto.”
Experts on MLB Network on Monday night talked about Manoah’s pitching ability, which includes a fastball that ranges between 94 and 97 mph. Manoah maintains his velocity late into games – pitch No. 120 this year against Texas was clocked at 97.
On a scouting scale where 80 is the top of the charts, Manoah’s fastball is rated 65, his slider 55 and his changeup 50.
“(Manoah) goes downhill with a long-armed delivery,” Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz said on MLB Network. “He’s an athletic big guy. He has a two-pitch mix (fastball, slider).
“As the future unfolds, the ability to bring along a third pitch will be the key to see if he stays in the rotation (or becomes a reliever). He pitches with so much emotion, you can be sure he will put everything he has into his craft.”
The first overall pick in the draft, by the Orioles, was Oregon State switch-hitting catcher Adley Rutschman, a junior who was the MVP of the 2018 College World Series, leading the Beavers to the championship.
The Royals took prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., at number two. He is the son of former major-league pitcher Bobby Witt, who was the third overall pick 34 years ago.
“Now I have him beat,” Witt Jr. said of his father’s draft status.
With the third pick, the White Sox took Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn, regarded as the best hitter in this draft. Vaughn, the 2018 Golden Spikes winner, hits for average and power.
After the Marlins took Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday fourth, the Tigers selected the first Floridian in the draft, Orlando-area prep outfielder Riley Greene, a smooth lefty hitter.
The Padres picked perhaps the fastest and most athletic player in the draft at six, prep shortstop C.J. Abrams, and the Reds followed with Nick Lodolo of Texas Christian, the first pitcher selected.
Third baseman Josh Jung of Texas Tech stayed in the state as he was selected eighth by the Texas Rangers, and catcher Shea Langeliers, who had an 11-RBI game for Baylor this past weekend, went ninth to the Braves.
Arizona State outfielder Hunter Bishop completed the top 10 picks when he was drafted by the Giants.