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2021 Detroit Tigers 40-Man Roster Preview: Matt Manning

Matt Manning of the Detroit Tigers pitches during Spring Training. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Matt Manning of the Detroit Tigers pitches during Spring Training. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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There was a chance Detroit Tigers blue-chip pitching prospect Matt Manning would see the Detroit Tigers MLB roster at some point in 2020–and while we watched Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal make their respective debuts, many began to wonder why pitchers like Tyler Alexander and Rony Garcia were starting games instead of bringing up someone like Manning.

Turns out there was some valid justification, as the team announced in August they had shutdown both Matt Manning and Alex Faedo with right forearm strains. The obvious concern with these types of injuries for pitchers is Tommy John Surgery–Faedo was not so lucky to escape the knife, but it appears Manning will make a full recovery and be ready for spring training in 2021.

Contract Status With the Detroit Tigers

Manning was added to the 40-man roster in November as part of a move that protected him from the Rule 5 Draft that took place last month. Because he was never added to the 40-man before November, he has not accumulated any MLB service time.

The question, then, becomes the likelihood of Manning making the team out of spring training in 2021. In any case, Manning would need a stellar spring to be considered for a roster spot opening day. There are valid reasons beyond the typical service time manipulation for Manning to begin the year at Toledo. Foremost, he has not yet pitched there outside of the alternate site–and while the same could be said for Mize and Skubal last season, neither of them were in Detroit on opening day, either.

The Detroit Tigers will likely need Manning later in the year presuming he doesn’t waste all of his innings at the Triple-A level; especially considering Mize and Skubal will be on some form of a limit following the shortened season last year. If the Detroit Tigers decide to start Manning in Toledo, they will need him to spend 15 days in the minors before calling him up, assuming a full season. This would allow Manning’s six-year control window to begin in 2022.

Matt Manning’s Game

Manning features a three-pitch mix; a fastball that sits in the mid-90s regularly, a 12/6 hammer curveball, and a changeup some have deemed plus but is still a work in progress. In some brief spring training and summer camp looks, Manning’s fastball has gotten knocked around a bit; surprising given the ridiculous extension he generates from his long, athletic frame.

https://twitter.com/ThatDanHasty/status/842828155408846848

The curveball will always be the primary secondary offering for Manning and has true plus potential, but Manning’s success and perhaps the lynchpin to him pitching in a rotation long-term is his ability to throw his changeup consistently enough to make it a usable pitch at the highest levels.

ZiPS Projections

As we have witnessed first-hand with Mize and Skubal, starting pitchers finding their footing at the big league level is not linear relative to minor league success. With that context in mind, ZiPS projects a strong year for Manning:

8-8, 25 starts, 124.0 innings, 4.43 ERA, 8.71 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, and a 1.9 fWAR. If those numbers sound pedestrian, it would be the second-best ERA on the 2020 squad by a large margin.

My Take

Matt Manning starts the season in Toledo with some success before getting the call. It’s all about the changeup; come spring it will have been nearly a full year since we witnessed Manning pitch. If he has his changeup down this spring, his stay in Toledo could be very brief. If not, it could be a later look as a potential September call-up.

Regardless, assuming health, I believe Manning gets a look in 2021 and could be the next step of the build-up referenced by Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila in the past.

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