Wherever he goes, Manzardo keeps hitting
To find a textbook example of a breakout prospect, look no further than Kyle Manzardo. The 22-year-old has always been a slugger. He hit .366/.437/.640 with 11 homers in 47 games in his junior year at Washington State, and when the Rays selected him in the second round of the
To find a textbook example of a breakout prospect, look no further than Kyle Manzardo.
The 22-year-old has always been a slugger. He hit .366/.437/.640 with 11 homers in 47 games in his junior year at Washington State, and when the Rays selected him in the second round of the 2021 Draft, he went 15-for-43 (.349) with six strikeouts in 13 games in the Florida Complex League.
Even so, there are always questions about how the collegiate experience will translate to the grind of Minor League Baseball. So, when the lefty put together a .327/.426/.617 slash line with the second-highest wRC+ (172) of all Minor Leaguers with at least 250 plate appearances, it may not have come as a surprise to those in the know.
The first baseman shot up to No. 4 on Tampa Bay’s top prospects list after starting the year unranked. He was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year and earned a spot on MLB Pipeline's Prospect Team of the Year for his stellar season.
Manzardo was born and raised in Couer d'Alene, Idaho -- a state not exactly known for its baseball prowess. In fact, only 32 Major Leaguers have ever come out of the Gem State (Angels' infielder and Boise native Michael Stefanic made the most recent MLB debut for an Idaho native in 2022). Manzardo is well on his way to becoming the next.
The 6-foot-1 slugger played just five games in April before an injury sidelined him for more than a month. Once he came back in mid-May, though, he didn’t miss a beat. In 63 games with High-A Bowling Green, he clubbed 34 extra-base hits, drove in 55 runs, drew 45 walks and had just 46 strikeouts. His 1.072 OPS was too hard to ignore, and he quickly earned a promotion to Double-A Montgomery at the beginning of August.
KYLE MANZARDO WALK-OFF!! pic.twitter.com/A0km89Nh9T— Montgomery Biscuits (@BiscuitBaseball) August 21, 2022
Although he finished with fewer long balls, the new level didn’t faze Manzardo. He went 32-for-99 (.323) with 26 RBIs, 14 walks and 19 strikeouts in 30 games. He even stole the first bag of his professional career at the very end of the regular season.
“He's got a really good feel for the strike zone, first and foremost. He's a good self-evaluator and knows the pitches that he can do damage on,” Rays’ director of Minor League operations Jeff McLerran told MLB.com’s Adam Berry in September. “He's able to find those pitches, hunt those pitches and then execute when that pitch comes.”
That’s more than apparent when you look at his stats. Of all qualified Minor Leaguers, he finished top 10 in average (eighth), on-base percentage (eighth), slugging percentage (fourth) and OPS (second) while leading all Rays' prospects with at least 250 plate appearances in each slash line category.
Power isn’t his flashiest tool, but 22 homers in 93 games is nothing to scoff at, especially when put in context of his overall approach at the plate. Manzardo walks and strikes out at an almost identical rate, with 59 free passes and 65 whiffs across two levels in 2022; good for a 14.9 percent walk rate and a 16.4 percent strikeout rate. For a first baseman, those kind of numbers are more than acceptable -- and the kind of numbers that have him ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 3 first base prospect.
“I think one of the things that really stands out to us about him is, as good as he's been, the desire to continue to get better,” McLerran said. “He took a lot of pride in getting better defensively on top of putting up the numbers that he did at the plate, and that is a lot of the reason that he's in the spot that he's in.”
One of Tampa Bay's biggest needs for the immediate future is finding someone to man the other hot corner, and Manzardo just might make that decision easy. Another season of him feasting on professional pitching, especially at the Minors' highest level where he projects to begin the season at Triple-A Durham, and it's not hard to envision him at the Trop within the next two years.
Stephanie Sheehan is an contributor for MiLB.com.