He arrived with little fanfare, an unfamiliar name in a Major League trade. Indirectly, he replaced one of the most popular players in Reds history, yet he came with a résumé of an undrafted free agent with only a half season of professional experience. Three years later, he would be in the big leagues, the 33rd Dragons player to get there. He was pitcher Robert Manuel, a Dragon in 2006, later to become a member of the Reds and Red Sox.
Robert Manuel is a native of Houston, Texas who was infielder until converting to the mound in college at Sam Houston State University. His name was not called in the 2005 draft and he signed as a free agent with the New York Mets. His first and only year in the Mets organization produced excellent results, a record of 8-1 with a 2.06 earned run average for the Mets Gulf Coast League affiliate after the draft in 2005.
The next May, the Reds were looking to move struggling starting pitcher David Williams and found interest from the Mets. Williams had been acquired prior to the 2006 season from Pittsburgh for popular first baseman Sean Casey, but Williams had endured some tough outings over his first eight starts with Cincinnati. On May 25, 2006, the Reds traded Williams to the Mets. The Reds received Manuel in return in a two-player deal. Ironically, Manuel, who had been completely passed over in a 50-round draft 11 months earlier, was traded straight up for a Major League starting pitcher.
Manuel arrived in Dayton for his first appearance on May 27 and was initially utilized as a reliever. Over his first three outings, he allowed just one run in nine and two-thirds innings and earned a start. On June 10 at home against West Michigan, he made his first start in the Reds organization and was outstanding, allowing just one run in six innings and walking no one, but receiving no decision for his efforts. His next start produced similar results. In five innings, he allowed just one run and struck out seven without walking a batter. Through his first five games with the Dragons, his ERA was a microscopic 1.31, though he did not have a win or a loss.
Manuel's next start with the Dragons was the shortest of his pro career and skewed his final numbers with the team. He allowed six runs in the first inning against South Bend and left the game without getting the final out of the frame. The game was a blip on the radar for Manuel. His next start featured five strong innings and no earned runs allowed.
The most impressive element of Manuel's time in Dayton was his control. He made seven starts for the Dragons in 2006 and did not walk a single hitter in any of them. In his first nine appearances with the team including six starts over 34 and one-third innings, he issued a total of one walk, and it was intentional. At the end of Manuel's tenure with the Dragons, his line showed four walks in 48 innings. Two of the four were intentional. It was his great control that eventually made Manuel into a Major League pitcher. Baseball America noted his specific talent in their Prospect Handbook, writing that "because he can spot...to all four quadrants of the plate, Manuel gets away with throwing fastball after fastball...he manages to hide the ball for a long time. Most important, his fastball seems to have a little pop to it...even if he lacks above average velocity."
In early August of 2006, Manuel was promoted by the Reds from Dayton to Sarasota to finish out the season. He had gone 0-3 for the Dragons with a 4.31 ERA. Without the one bad outing, his ERA would have been 3.42, a more representative indication of his work in Dayton. He spent all of 2007 in Sarasota, going 6-5 with a 4.03 ERA. Then in 2008, Manuel's career took a huge step forward.
Manuel began 2008 back in Sarasota where he appeared in just four games before moving up. He had allowed no earned runs in eight innings. On April 16, Manuel was promoted to Double-A Chattanooga. In 47 games with the Lookouts, his performance was phenomenal. Opposing batters hit just .172 against him. He posted a 1.40 ERA, allowing just 12 earned runs in 77 innings. He walked 15 and struck out 92. He was selected by Minor League Baseball as the top Double-A relief pitcher of 2008. Suddenly, the former undrafted free agent was generating long looks from scouts. At the end of the season, he was placed on the Reds 40-man roster. Baseball America listed Manuel as the 27th best prospect in the Reds organization, noting a very interesting pattern of pitching, with his success offering great credence to the age-old adage that a well-placed fastball is the best pitch in baseball.
"He rears back and throws 88-90 mph fastballs at hitters who are looking for fastballs. Yet time after time, they walk back to the dugout disappointed. Scouts can't explain it, but they can't quibble with the results."
Manuel started the 2009 season in Triple-A with Louisville and pitched well. On July 7, he was called up to Cincinnati to replace Jared Burton in the Reds bullpen. Two days later, Manuel, who had not been among the 1,501 players drafted in 2005, was standing on the mound in Philadelphia, pitching for the Reds against the Phillies. In his first outing, he worked one and one-third scoreless innings. Three days later, Manuel threw two scoreless innings against the team that had originally signed him, the Mets. He tossed another scoreless inning in what turned out to be his final appearance with the Reds on July 16 against Milwaukee. In his three outings, he worked four and one-third shutout innings. On July 20, he was optioned back to Louisville. Nine days later, he was dealt to Seattle for outfielder Wladimir Balentin.
In 2010, Manuel was claimed off waivers by the Boston Red Sox and appeared in 10 big league games for them. He earned his first big league win against the Yankees on October 2 of that season and finished the year with a 1-0 record and a 4.26 ERA. He spent most of the year with the Red Sox Triple-A club, Pawtucket, and posted an outstanding ERA of 1.68 with an 8-2 record.
Strangely, despite success at multiple levels, Manuel was unable to find a job with a big league organization in 2011 and pitched in independent ball. He did not play in 2012. Manuel is still only 29 years old. In 13 big league relief appearances, he is 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA. In 259 Minor League games, he is 35-21 with a 2.77 ERA. He was the 33rd Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues.
Click Here for Robert Manuel's Major League statistics.
Click Here for Robert Manuel's Minor League statistics.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.