Thanks to an injury in the spring and most recently a trade deadline deal in which he was traded from the Kansas City Royals organization to the Oakland A’s, starting pitching prospect Sean Manaea hasn’t really gotten comfortable at any of his four stops during the 2015 season.
Manaea, a 2013 competitive balance round selection by the Royals, was shipped Oakland’s way in the Ben Zobrist trade. He said the news that he had been traded came as a big surprise.
“When I first got the call that I was getting traded, I was really shocked,” said Manaea, who had pitched in just a pair of games with Kansas City Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas before the trade.
“I was in the hotel room with my roommate Kyle Zimmer and got the call from my manager saying I got traded in the Ben Zobrist trade. He told me to get my bags packed and that I was leaving tomorrow. After I got off the phone, we sat around and talked about it. I kind of understand because both clubs want to win the World Series and Kansas City wants to do everything they can.”
It turned into a whirlwind 48 hours for Manaea, whose team was at Arkansas when he found out about the trade. He flew out to the Dallas/Fort Worth area the following day to catch up with another Texas League club, the Midland RockHounds. The RockHounds were wrapping up a series at Frisco at the time of the deal. Once the RockHounds finished that series, Manaea and his new teammates took a five-hour bus ride home.
While initially skeptical of moving to his fourth minor league team of the year (Manaea also pitched four games at High-A Wilmington and once for the AZL Royals), the 6'5'' southpaw said those fears were eased by a loose Midland clubhouse that has been winning a lot since the season hit the midway point.
“As soon as I got here, I was a little nervous being around new guys and having to make new friends,” Manaea said. “But after about a week, I was good friends with a lot of these guys. They’re all great and have made the transition easy. I’m still going out there with the same mindset and having fun, do the best I can and hopefully good things happen.”
Since being drafted in 2013 and initiated into the Royals’ approach to pitching, Manaea said it was quite an adjustment to switch over to Oakland’s methodology.
“I feel like it's polar opposites,” he said. “I don’t really know how to explain it. I love the Kansas City organization and how they do everything over there. Everything with the A’s is a lot different in how they do stuff. Everything feels different. It’s not a bad thing, but it's different philosophies. The atmospheres are different.”
On the field, Manaea has finally rounded into form in the season’s final weeks. Through four starts in the A’s organization, he has posted a 3-0 record and 2.19 ERA to go along with a 27:8 K:BB rate. During his most recent start on August 16th against Tulsa – the team he will face on Saturday – Manaea allowed just four hits and a pair of walks through six shutout innings.
In addition to finally being healthy from an abdomen tear that cost him two-and-a-half months, Manaea has added a third pitch that he’s commanding better than ever. That pitch compliments his mid-90s fastball and sharp slider.
“I’m focused on throwing my change-up for strikes, because that’s been my biggest trouble since I got into pro ball,” Manaea said. “I had a change-up for maybe a year but it wasn’t that good, so I scratched that as soon as I got to Kansas City. Trying to throw a four-seam change-up has been a struggle, but I felt like these last couple starts I’ve been able to start throwing more of them for strikes.”
In his first run through the Texas League, Manaea has also adapted well to opposing offenses at the Double-A level.
“Some teams are more aggressive than others,” he said. “Some will swing at the first pitch and if they don’t do that they have to swing at the second pitch. You’ve got learn what to do against them, like throwing a change-up for a strike or throwing it off the plate. It’s a lot better competition than High-A and hitters have better approaches.”
The tall left-hander makes his fifth start with Double-A Midland Saturday night at Tulsa, which is one more appearance than he’s made with any team this season. As the A's top pitching prospect, he may finally get a chance to settle in for the long run with Oakland after a tumultous year.