It’s just a hunch, but I sense WVU sports fans could use a little sunshine.
Maybe, just maybe, they can use a changeup from the Mountaineer men’s basketball season.
And if you’re one of those fans, well, you’ve come to the right place.
I have such a changeup. And he happens to throw a changeup. And a slider. And a fastball.
His name is Alek Manoah. And it’s stunning how much of a hidden gem the junior right-handed pitcher has been since joining Randy Mazey’s baseball program back in 2015.
Today? He’s on the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch. The USA Baseball award recognizes the country’s top amateur baseball player. In addition, Baseball America has named him to the Preseason All-America Second Team.
Yet Manoah has been quite a story from the windup. On Nov. 16, 2015, in the midst of football and basketball season, he signed with WVU out of South Dade Senior High in Miami.
It was quite a coup for Mazey. Yet it was a quiet coup, which was head-scratching.
Manoah, then 6-6, 247 pounds, had been rated No. 40 among all high school seniors by Baseball Factory. MaxPreps had him at No. 67. He was on the Miami Herald All-Dade team playing in the largest high school classification. He chose WVU over Auburn and Mississippi State. (Manoah’s brother Erik, by the way, was once drafted by the New York Mets. He’s currently a righty for the Inland Empire 66ers, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels in the California League.)
Folks didn’t seem to get it. Manoah had pitched at Wrigley Field in the Under Armour All-America Game. Also, he was honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association and Rawlings as a second-team All-American – as a first baseman.
“Alek is a two-way guy from Miami that has the chance to be one of the best players to ever play at West Virginia as both a pitcher and a hitter,” Mazey said at the time.
“He’s a ferocious competitor,” John Burnside, Manoah’s high school coach, told me in 2015. “He’s intimidating in size. And he gets the ball up there.”
The hitting part hasn’t panned out, but Manoah is only the third player in WVU program history to be named to the Golden Spikes preseason watch. (The others were Harrison Musgrave and Ryan McBroom.)
“He’s been really good so far,” Mazey told reporters over the weekend. “I think he made a decision this summer that he’s going to get really serious about playing this game for a living, and I think the results have shown. He’s been pitching really well so far this spring. He’s going to have to be a workhorse for us, go out and give us 100, 120 pitches every time out.”
The coach addressed his pitcher’s development.
“He has all three pitches going on really well right now,” Mazey said. “He has command of all three pitches. The stuff is off the charts. He throws really hard; has a great changeup, great slider and he’s put it all together.
“Also, he’s cleaned up his body. That’s the first thing he had to do, and he couldn’t do that until he made a decision to clean up his body, like we all try to do every day, right? But he’s done that, and I think that’s what’s enabled him to turn the corner.”
The pitches have always been within Manoah, according to Mazey.
“He was a super-talented kid when we signed him out of high school,” said the coach. “He just had to make that decision that he wanted to be good, and once you make that decision and take pride in it, your actions follow. Once he made the decision, everything kind of fell into place for him.”
Mazey helped Manoah see the light. But he also knew not to mess with the righty’s mechanics.
“Bits and pieces here and there, but I’m here not to screw him up at this point,” Mazey said. “I just keep him in line when he starts getting a little bit of fatigue and starts losing his direction a little bit. So, just bits and pieces here and there. But I’m not going to change a guy that doesn’t need changing.”
Especially one that’s providing so much sunshine during these February days.