Detroit Tigers: 5 minor-league storylines to follow

The new entrance to UPMC Park, shown on April 30, 2021.
The new entrance to UPMC Park, shown on April 30, 2021. /
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The 2021 minor-league baseball season began yesterday, offering a welcome distraction for weary Detroit Tigers fans (and beat writers). Rogelio wrote a recap of yesterday’s results, and we hope to offer daily content on the happenings with Detroit’s farm teams.

But there are some specific storylines we’ll be focusing on this season, and we thought we’d share them with you in case you’d like to follow along.

Detroit Tigers Minor-League Storyline: Matt Manning’s 3rd Pitch

Detroit Tigers
Matt Manning of the Detroit Tigers pitches during Spring Training. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Matt Manning is widely considered one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. Here at Motor City Bengals we ranked him 5th in the Detroit Tigers system, but there is sentiment among some fans (and evaluators) that Manning is the top pitching prospect in the system. Manning certainly looks like a potential ace, with a statuesque frame, plus athleticism, and good control of a pair of plus pitches.

But Matt Manning isn’t a finished product by any means, and we need to see a lot more from him before he can become the top-of-the-rotation starter some envision. For starters, his stuff isn’t really that impressive, at least not by 2021 MLB starter standards. Manning can run his fastball up to 97 MPH and has touched higher before, but he mostly sits in the 92-95 MPH range. This spring his fastball averaged 93.8 MPH, just a tick above the MLB average this year (93.4), and while he does get elite extension, his spin rates are unremarkable. His curveball has been a plus pitch for him in the past, but it didn’t look great this spring, or in his Mud Hens debut yesterday.

Taken as a whole, right now Matt Manning’s stuff doesn’t seem any better than Alex Lange’s, and Lange currently owns a 7.88 ERA in eight big-league innings. Manning needs a viable third pitch, and to his credit, he knows that ($). But it’s at least mildly concerning he hasn’t developed a better changeup to this point, and is instead opting for a second breaking ball.

Some pitchers never master the feel for changeups (hello Jeremy Bonderman), and some who try to throw two good breaking balls often find themselves with one bad breaking ball. It is vitally important for Manning to find a quality third pitch this season. Otherwise he may be looking at a future as a middle reliever.