*Editor’s note: This article was written and submitted by Doc Riddle prior to the recently announced news that Reds pitcher Joe Mantiply required Tommy John Surgery, which took place Friday, March 9. Hopefully Riddle’s assessment of Mantiply holds true for his return in what may be early-to-mid 2019.
Every year in Spring Training, there are always a few guys who seem to be on the edge between making the cut and riding the bus. Sometimes, it’s just a lack of experience that is the determining factor; other times, it’s a numbers crunch and there simply isn’t room at the moment on the big-league roster.
This year, LHP Joe Mantiply stands out in that respect. He’s put in his time in the minors, to be sure, and he’s never really been high on the top prospect list of any team, but he’s been consistently good. For a team like the Reds, that’s something of which they cannot have too much.
Mantiply was originally a 27th-round pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2013 out of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Blacksburg, VA). Since that time, Mantiply has done little more than outplay expectations. In his first pro experience with the short-season Connecticut Tigers in the New York-Penn League, Mantiply recorded a 2.04 ERA in 13 appearances over 35 1/3 innings, walking ten and striking out thirty. Keep an eye on his K/BB ratio, as we move forward.
He split time between Double-A Erie and Low-A Erie in 2014, posting a 2.40 ERA in 38 appearances for the Whitecaps (71 1/3 IP), walking 19 and striking out 76 batters. On his move to the Eastern League, Mantiply made only eight appearances for the SeaWolves, striking out ten and walking three in 10 2/3 innings. He would pitch with Glendale in the Arizona Fall League, that season, finishing with fifteen strikeouts, two walks, and a 2.57 ERA over 11 appearances. Again, numbers consistent with his career totals, thus far. At the end of the year, Baseball America ranked his changeup the best in the Midwest League.
In 2015, Mantiply would head back to Erie for a full season of Double-A experience. Over 32 appearances, he recorded a 2.53 ERA in 53 1/3 innings of work, striking out 44 and walking twelve. Bumped to Triple-A Toledo, he would make seven appearances before the season ended, striking out seven and walking a lone batter in ten innings.
The 2016 season saw him back in Erie for 49 appearances, in which he was his usual, reliably-excellent self. Over 51 innings, Mantiply struck out 62 batters while walking only eleven. Splitting his time with the SeaWolves with a jump back to Triple-A Toledo, he stuck around long enough to make only seven more appearances covering 8 1/3 innings. He would make his MLB debut on September 3rd, advancing from Double-A to pitch only 1/3 inning at Kansas City, striking out his only batter.
It would be a week before he made his second MLB appearance, this time at home vs. the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched a full inning, allowing one hit, no runs, no walks, and striking out two. Mantiply would pitch in three more games that September, finishing with 2 2/3 innings, having given up five runs on seven hits, walking two and striking out two.
Mantiply spent all of 2017 in Triple-A, this time with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in the Yankees organization after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers during the GM Meetings after the 2016 season. The Yankees would DFA him, then re-sign him a week later. Brian Cashman was reportedly confident that Mantiply was an “under-the-radar” type of situational lefty, one who could contribute on a regular basis at the big-league level. Mantiply performed roughly in-line with his career numbers (once more), finishing with a 2.83 ERA over 70 innings, striking out 62 and walking only eighteen.
While Mantiply doesn’t appear to have cracked the Reds’ depth chart at the major league level, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be a likely call-up should the Reds need a lefty reliever at any point during the season. He has shown himself to be consistent and, at times, an excellent relief option, in the minor leagues at every level. With lefties Wandy Peralta and Amir Garrett ahead of him on the chart, as well as the recently-signed MLB veteran Oliver Perez, Mantiply faces an uphill battle to climb far enough to start the year in the big leagues.
Mantiply works with a fastball that sits 88-90, touching 91-92 on occasion, with a slider in the low-80’s, at times dipping down to 78-79, and a change-up around 80-82, and he can spot all three pitches for strikes. The improvement in his change helped him become more than just a lefty specialist while with the RailRiders in 2017; his splits vs. left-handers and right-handers were nearly equal (.654 OPS vs. RHB; .688 OPS vs. LHB), and induced grounders at a 49.3% clip for a 1.57 GB/FB ratio. He finished 2017 with a 66.4% strike percentage, slightly below his 68% career rate in the minors. His minor-league career rate of 8.7 K/9, 3.97 K/BB ratio, and 14 HRA over 310 minor-league innings all add support to the case for Mantiply as a major-league reliever.
Mantiply has proven all he can at the minor-league level and now is basically waiting for a trade or an injury in Cincinnati. Given an extended trial, there’s reason to believe that he could be a steady and effective middle-relief or lefty specialist, at the very least. At age 26, his arm is relatively low-mileage, he’s not arbitration eligible until 2021, and won’t become a free agent until 2024. All told, Mantiply is just the sort of arm that a team like Cincy should want to have around.
Article featured image of Joe Mantiply – courtesy Cincinnati Reds Twitter