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Checking in on former Washington State baseball players climbing minor league ranks

July 16, 2022 Updated Sat., July 16, 2022 at 8:25 p.m.

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

In the first of this two-part series, we’ll focus on the recent draftees, the younger pros from WSU. (All statistics as of Friday night, courtesy of baseball-reference.com).

PULLMAN – Past the midway point of this season, over a dozen former Washington State baseball players find themselves on professional rosters.

The MLB draft is upon us. Will more Cougars turn pro in the coming days? There aren’t any sure bets – certainly not like last year, when Kyle Manzardo, Zane Mills and Brandon White all heard their names called.

For now, let’s check up on the Cougars who have broken into the professional ranks.

Infielder Kyle Manzardo, Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays): Manzardo’s bat is arguably the best in the lineup for the High-A team. The former WSU slugger boasts a .307 average (58 for 109) and leads his team in on-base (.413) and slugging percentages (.571).

Not much seems to have changed for the WSU star from Coeur d’Alene – his reputation is still climbing and opponents are still struggling to get him out. The first baseman set a WSU record in 2021, reaching base in 43 consecutive games. So far in his young professional career, Manzardo has reached base in 46 of 52 games.

Manzardo soared up draft boards as a WSU junior in 2021. The Rays used a second-round draft choice on him. Now, he’s a burgeoning MLB prospect – Tampa Bay’s No. 23 MiLB prospect, according to MLB.com, which predicts Manzardo will reach the majors in 2024.

“As he gets acquainted with the minors, Manzardo has a promising floor as a potential .290 hitter with 20-plus homers – numbers that would clear the high offensive bar for his position,” his MLB.com scouting report said.

After signing with the Rays last summer, Manzardo spent a month with Tampa Bay’s Florida Complex League rookie team. He performed well enough for the Rays to send him straight to High-A for 2022.

Manzardo sat out for about four weeks early this season because of an injury, but he immediately returned to productive form and has been highly consistent over the past two months.

In 230 plate appearances this year, Manzardo is up to 12 home runs, 12 doubles and 42 RBIs – all top-four totals among Hot Rods batters. He has drawn 36 walks against 40 strikeouts.

Manzardo is the reigning player of the week in the South Atlantic League. He drove in six runs and hit two homers in four games from July 7-10.

A graduate of Lake City High, Manzardo was a three-year starter at first base for the Cougars. He was named All-Pac-12 and multiple outlets recognized him as an All-American after his junior season in 2019, during which he hit .366 with 60 RBIs.

Pitcher Zane Mills, Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals): Splitting time between two of St. Louis’ Class A affiliates this season, the former WSU ace has been a serviceable starter for the Cardinals’ lower-level farm clubs since being selected by the franchise in the fourth round of the 2021 draft.

Mills, a big right-hander, is settling into the rotation for Advanced-A Peoria. He picked up his third professional win Friday in his 10th start with the Chiefs, allowing four hits and two runs across seven innings against South Bend.

Mills started seven games for Class A Palm Beach earlier this season, posting a 1-2 record.

Through 17 starts and 104⅔ innings as a pro, Mills owns a 3-7 record, a 4.04 ERA and a respectable 1.29 WHIP. He has struck out 71 batters and walked 23.

The Portland native compiled a 10-9 record in three seasons at WSU (2019-21), finishing his collegiate career with a 3.95 ERA and 155 strikeouts against 53 walks.

Pitcher Brandon White, FCL Marlins (Miami Marlins): White sustained an unspecified arm injury during extended spring training exercises in May and won’t play this season, according to a report from pro baseball podcaster Daniel De Vivo.

“He was looking incredibly sharp,” De Vivo tweeted May 12. “In his last scrimmage he struck out 8 of 9.”

A 12th-round draft choice by Miami last year, White was assigned to the rookie-level Florida Complex League Marlins in early June. He’ll begin his pro career in 2023 on the first step of the minor league ladder.

White, a product of Chehalis, Washington, played three seasons at WSU. The 6-foot-8 righty turned in his finest effort as a junior in 2021, logging a 6-4 record and a 4.98 ERA.

Pitcher A.J. Block, Quad Cities River Bandits (Kansas City Royals): Last year, the 6-5 southpaw struck out 124 and walked just 36 across 101 innings – 85 with High-A Quad Cities, the first 16 with Low-A Columbia.

The River Bandits claimed the High-A Central Championship. Block started the winner-take-all fifth game of the title series.

During the offseason, some Kansas City media outlets called Block an underrated pitching prospect in the Royals’ farm system. After his impressive debut campaign, it appeared Block would have a good chance at earning another promotion, perhaps as soon as this year. But his rise through the ranks has been delayed due to an undisclosed injury.

Quad Cities placed Block on the seven-day injured list in April, then transferred him to the 60-day IL on June 21. He has not appeared in a game this year.

Block made 16 starts for the River Bandits last season and worked five or more innings in 10 . He averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings, registered a 3.81 ERA and a solid WHIP of 1.176. Block dazzled at Low-A Columbia, allowing six hits and one run over 16 innings. His pro record stands at 5-5.

“A scout noted (Block’s) slider as a potential weapon,” The Athletic’s Alec Lewis wrote in January, including Block on the lower end of the Royals’ top 30 pitching prospects. “He may ultimately fit as a bullpen option, but given his innings buildup, the Royals may roll with him as a starter as long as he continues to pitch effectively.”

Block signed with WSU out of Bellevue and pitched 175⅔ innings for the Cougars, appearing in 55 games between 2017-20. He was picked by Detroit in the 17th round of the 2019 MLB draft but elected to stay in Pullman for his senior year. Block signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent in 2020 but didn’t make his pro debut for another year – the MiLB suspended play in 2020 because of the coronavirus.

Infielder Andres Alvarez, Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates): The fourth-year pro is holding steady at the Double-A level.

Alvarez began his career in the minors as a Low-A player in 2019, then worked his way up to High-A in 2021. The Pirates promoted him again in April, and Alvarez has since established himself as a regular contributor in Altoona’s lineup.

The 5-10 shortstop ranks second on the team with 13 home runs and 46 walks, and fourth with 35 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and a .377 on-base percentage. Alvarez is batting .244 (52 for 213) with 10 doubles through 66 games.

A three-year Cougar (2017-19) from San Diego, Alvarez quickly emerged as a defensive centerpiece at WSU. He started 156 consecutive games at WSU – all at shortstop – and totaled 42 doubles, 56 RBIs, a .286 batting average and a .961 fielding percentage.

Pittsburgh took him in the 22nd round of the 2019 draft. The Pirates have apparently been impressed with his versatility. Alvarez can shift to second or third base in a pinch.

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