Time will tell what kind of big league pitcher Sean Manaea ultimately develops into.
So far however, the A’s have to like what they’ve seen from the top-rated pitching prospect in their farm system. The 6-foot-5 left-hander came over from the Kansas City Royals in July, one of two pitchers acquired for utility man Ben Zobrist.
He dominated with Oakland’s Double-A Midland club after the trade, posting a 1.90 ERA in seven starts. Then Manaea clocked some overtime in the Arizona Fall League, finishing as the AFL’s strikeout leader and turning heads in the Nov. 7 “Fall Stars” game, when he struck out four over two hitless innings in the annual showcase that features some of the majors’ top prospects.
Former scout Bernie Pleskoff, who critiques prospects for MLB.com, wrote that when Manaea’s in sync with his mechanics, he can dominate with a fastball that touched 97 mph in the Fall Stars game. Though he also pointed out Manaea’s occasional problems with command, Pleskoff concluded his scouting report on Manaea with one word:
Manaea, who turns 24 in February, was the crown jewel of the five minor leaguers the A’s acquired in their three trade-deadline deals last summer, all made with an eye toward the future. A’s manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young will get a good look at the lefty during spring training.
[RELATED: Manaea named AFL Pitcher of the Week]
Could Manaea crack Oakland’s rotation out of camp? It’s not entirely out of the question, but keep in mind he’s made just nine starts as high as the Double-A level. Drafted 34th overall by the Royals in 2013 out of Indiana State, Manaea has logged just 39 professional starts. He required surgery for a torn labrum in his hip coming out of college and missed the rest of the ’13 season. His 2015 season didn’t start until June due to abdominal and groin injuries, part of the reason the A’s wanted him to get more work in the AFL.
Obviously the A’s won’t rush a pitcher with such a minimal track record. But in 2009, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill both broke camp in Oakland’s rotation despite each having made just six starts as high as Double-A.
“I like him a lot,” said Melvin, who was on hand for one of Manaea’s AFL starts. “He throws in the mid-90’s, good secondary pitches. For a lefty, he pitches inside to righties, and he’s not just a change-up guy against them. I’m really, really impressed. You can tell this guy’s got a real high ceiling.”
Manaea, an Indiana native of Samoan descent, found his groove after joining Midland following the trade. He went 6-0 with the 1.90 ERA, struck out 51 and surrendered just 34 hits in 42 2/3 innings.
“I don't know, something clicked in my head when I got to the A's,” Manaea told MILB.com. “I started having more confidence in myself. I wasn't thinking about a whole bunch of things on the mound. I was going out and pretty much having fun and just throwing the ball.”
A key is getting his 6-5, 235-pound frame flowing smoothly on the mound so he can repeat his delivery consistently.
“Sometimes it’s harder for bigger, taller kids,” Midland pitching coach John Wasdin said. “He’s got this big machine, trying to get all the pieces of the machine in sync. Look at all the big pitchers in baseball, sometimes they struggle to get that big body working together. He looked very smooth, there was no rigidness to it.”
When Manaea is at his best, Wasdin said he’s getting ahead in the count by spotting his fastball, then puts hitters away with a nasty slider that looks like the fastball coming out of his hand.
One thing that an American League scout said Manaea needs to improve is his pick-off move to first, and Wasdin agreed that controlling the running game will be key for Manaea moving forward.
When the lefty arrives at spring training in February, it appears A’s players will encounter a fun, laid-back teammate who finds his own unique ways to unwind. Wasdin recalls peaking out his office door in Midland’s clubhouse and seeing Manaea putting together a submarine made of Legos. Wasdin couldn’t help but snap a picture on his cell phone.
“At least we know he can follow directions.”