Alek Manaoh Hopes To Lead Strong WVU Pitching Staff
West Virginia junior pitcher Alek Manaoh has always had the look of an alpha dog.
From his imposing physical presence (6-foot-6 and 260 pounds) to his boisterous and outsized personality, he attracts attention everywhere on the diamond. Standing tall on the mound, with a fastball that can overpower opponents, he checks all the boxes in terms of potential.
His results at WVU, during his first two years, have been solid, but marked with bouts of wildness. As a junior, he struck out 60 batters in 54 innings, but also uncorked seven wild pitches and hit 15 opponents – both team highs. He could be dominating, but sometimes got behind in counts, forcing him to come in with more hittable pitches. The results were a 4.00 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP and a 3-5 record – not awful, but not what he had hoped for.
However, with the 2019 season just a few days away, Manoah is coming in with newfound promise. He “took better care of his body” according to head coach Randy Mazey, and certainly looks trimmer, if no less imposing. He also had an outstanding summer in the Cape Cod league, which is a gathering point for many rising stars in the college game, and a showcase for major league scouts. Playing for the Chatham Anglers, he went 4-3 in nine starts with a 3.57 ERA, posting 68 strikeouts against just 14 walks. In seven of those nine starts he allowed two earned runs or fewer. That showing earned him notice from Baseball America as one of the top five MLB pitching prospects in the league.
“Everything was really working for me, the fastball, both sides of the plate,” Manoah said of his summer. “I was able to get ahead in counts. I also worked on a new slider. That was kind of my put-away pitch.”
Control will be the key for Manoah this year, and if he can continue to keep command of his fastball, which ranges in the mid 90s, he’s going to be set up for success. He stayed in touch with head coach Randy Mazey over the summer as he developed his new hard breaker.
“He was asking me the same things, what are you working on, what’s working for you,” Manoah related. “He gave me a few tips on it, but said to make sure not to ignore my fastball. I’m a fastball pitcher.”
After two years in which he bounced back and forth between starting and relieving roles, Manoah enters the season as the Friday starter. That’s the focal point of the weekend rotation – get off to a good start, win the first game of the series and set up the weekend. It’s a place that fits Manoah’s mindset.
“I love starting. It’s my day,” he said with a smile. “I show up at the ballpark and the way I look at it is everyone is here to watch me pitch. It feels good to be a starter.”
That mix of confidence, bravado and combativeness makes him an ideal candidate for that leadoff weekend role, but he’s not the only pitcher that West Virginia has high hopes for this year. The Mountaineers will be able to go right-left-right in its weekend rotation, as Jackson Wolf (So., 6-7, 205 pounds) and Kade Strowd (Jr. 6-2, 175 pounds) are set to begin the year in those slots.
Wolf was 1-1 with a 4.07 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 24.1 innings (two starts) last season, allowing foes to hit only .218. Strowd, a returning starter, was 4-7 with a 5.74 ERA and also averaged nearly one K per inning.
“We have a lot of guys who compete really hard and throw a lot of strikes,” Manoah said. “We have some good incoming freshmen too.”
WVU has suffered one hit to the pitching staff, as junior Cody Wood is expected to miss the entire season with an injury, but Manoah, along with Mazey, sees enough potential in the staff to find another swing/midweek starter and stock the bullpen.
Among the newcomers, Daniel Ouderkirk (RHP, 6-9, 225 pounds) stands tall, but there’s plenty of competition with nine other freshman hurlers on the roster. Sam Kessler (Jr., 6-1, 190 pounds) will be the closer to start the season. He comes off a 2018 season that showed a 4-0 record with four saves and a 2.86 ERA in 25 relief appearances.
West Virginia opens its 2019 season with three games in the Atlanta metro area on Feb 15-17. The Mountaineers play at Kennesaw State on Friday, then oppose Georgia State on Saturday and Sunday as part of the Atlanta Challenge.