Is Alek Manoah WVU’s Greatest Pitcher Ever?
West Virginia University doesn’t match the historical baseball success of collegiate diamond powers like USC, Arizona State, Texas or Miami, but still the Mountaineers have had their share of outstanding players in their 121-year history.
Twenty-nine former Mountaineers have advanced to the Major Leagues, including three who are there now – infielder Jedd Gyorko with the St. Louis Cardinals, pitcher Harrison Musgrave with the Colorado Rockies and pitcher John Means with the Baltimore Orioles.
Of the 29 WVU alums who have played in the Majors, 14 were pitchers, so West Virginia has had good representation when it comes to MLB throwers. But the best of all those Mountaineer moundmen may still be at WVU, at least for a short time.
Junior righthander Alek Manoah will be making his final regular season start Thursday evening when he faces George Washington at Monongalia County Ballpark. Manoah enters the non-conference contest against the Colonials with a 7-3 record and an ERA of 1.89 this season. He’s been named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week four times this year, including being the first in conference history to earn the honor three straight weeks. In addition, he was the national NCBWA Pitcher of the Month in April.
Statistically the 6-foot-6, 260-pounder from Miami leads the Big 12 in strikeouts (121), WHIP (0.89), ERA (1.89), games started (13), strikeouts per nine innings (12.01), strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.50) and wins (7). He’s also second in the conference in hits allowed per nine innings (5.86) and complete games (2).
Most experts predict he will be among the top 15 picks in the first round of the June 3 MLB Draft; some even think in the top 10. Only one Mountaineer in the history has been drafted in the first round, as pitcher Chris Enochs was the 11th selection of the first round in 1997, taken by the Oakland A’s. Though he pitched in the minors for nine seasons, Enochs, a native of Oak Glen, West Virginia, never made it to the majors as an injury derailed his career.
So you never know what the future holds for Manoah or anyone else, as fate can throw a curveball into the best laid plans. But in terms of a college pitching career, few at WVU have accomplished what Alek has this season.
Manoah was a good pitcher during his first two years at West Virginia, posting a 4-6 record with an ERA of 3.91, but it’s as a junior that his career has gone from good to great. In his 13 starts so far this season, he’s struck out 11 or more six times. In back-to-back performances in April against Texas Tech and Kansas, he fanned 15 in each, becoming the only Big 12 or Mountaineer pitcher ever to accomplish that feat in successive starts. It had been 18 years since WVU had a pitcher with 15 strikeouts even in one game, as David Maust recorded that many against Cleveland State in 2001.
Manoah is closing in on several single-season records for West Virginia, the most notable of which is strikeouts. With 121 Ks so far this year, he currently stands in second in WVU history, just two behind John Radosevich, who punched out 123 in 1964. Radosevich also had been No. 2 on WVU’s single-season strike out list with 120 in 1965 until Manoah fanned 13 Wildcats at Kansas State this past Friday to move into second and raise his total to 121.
Radosevich is another cautionary tale when it comes to forecasting professional success for pitchers. He arguably is the most dominant pitcher in West Virginia history, posting a 25-4 career record (1963-65) at WVU. He had 22 strikeouts in a game against Waynesburg in 1965 and six times struck out 15 or more. His 339 career strikeouts over his three seasons at WVU are still easily the most in school history, as is his 1.34 career ERA.
Radosevich was the first Mountaineer drafted by a MLB team, going in the fifth round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965. He was sailing through L.A.’s minor league system with a 24-5 record through three seasons when a rotator cuff injury ended his baseball career before he ever got a chance to pitch in the big leagues.
Enochs and Radosevich are arguably the two best Mountaineer pitchers, though injuries kept both from making it to the bigs.
Like Radosevich, Enochs also was at WVU three years (1995-97) before moving on to the pro ranks. He had a 21-10 record and a 4.82 ERA with the Mountaineers while striking out 161 in 205 innings.
After those two, certainly there are other outstanding pitchers who came through West Virginia.
Zac Cline (2002-04) held a 24-11 record with a 3.64 ERA in his three-year WVU career that included 206 strikeouts in 282 innings. Cline was drafted in the 15th round by Philadelphia in 2005. He spent the next eight years playing professional baseball but never rose above Class A.
Wes Shaw (1987-90) spent four years at WVU, posting a 28-9 career record with a 1.42 ERA. He had 243 Ks in 283 innings. Shaw was not drafted when his college career concluded.
Harrison Musgrave (2011, 2013-14) left WVU with an 18-6 record and a 2.89 ERA. The Harrison County native had 209 strikeouts in his 258 innings for West Virginia. An eighth-round draft selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, Musgrave worked his way up through the organization before landing with the major league club in 2018. A reliever for the Rockies, he has appeared in 45 games and has a 4.45 ERA with a 2-3 record in his two seasons with the big club.
Jim Heise (1953-56) was a dominating pitcher on some excellent WVU teams in the mid-50s. He finished his career with 24 wins and a 2.22 ERA while striking out 277 in 283 innings. Heise signed a free agent contract with the Washington Senators after his West Virginia days were over, as baseball had not started the draft yet. He enjoyed a short stint with that MLB club in 1957 and had a 0-3 record and an ERA of 8.05. He, Enochs and Radosevich are all members of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Steve Kline (1993) spent just one season at WVU and posted a 6-6 record with a 3.07 ERA. He had 82 strikeouts in 79 innings. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians after that lone season with the Mountaineers. Kline ultimately made it to the Majors in 1997 and spent the next 11 seasons there with Cleveland, Montreal, St. Louis, Baltimore and San Francisco. A reliever in the pros, his MLB career ended in 2007 with a 34-39 record, 39 saves and a 3.51 ERA.
Dustin Nippert (2002) also spent only one year with the Mountaineers, where he had a 3-4 record and a 4.85 ERA in 2002 with 57 Ks and 63 innings pitched. He was a 15th round draft choice of the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of that season. He eventually pitched six seasons in the majors, split between Arizona and Texas. He finished his MLB career with a 14-16 record and a 5.31 ERA over the course of 119 games, most as a reliever.
One of WVU’s best pitching prospects never actually pitched for the Mountaineers. David Carpenter was an outstanding catcher for West Virginia (2004-06) before being drafted by St. Louis in the 12th round in ’06. The Cardinals saw his strong arm and quickly developed him into a pitcher. The Fairmont native spent five seasons in the Majors as a reliever where he had an 11-11 record and a 3.66 ERA.
Now comes Manoah, who holds an 11-9 career record with a 2.79 ERA at WVU. He’s struck out 226 in 200 innings.
As a likely first round draft pick this summer, he’ll command a huge contract and will move on to the pro ranks before June is over. Thus his last regular season performance ever at Mon County Ballpark will come Thursday against GW.
He’ll have more postseason opportunities to pitch for the Mountaineers, possibly even in Morgantown in a regional round, but the college career of one of West Virginia’s best-ever pitchers is rapidly drawing to a close.