Name: Sean Manaea
Height/Weight: 6’5’’, 250
How Acquired: Acquired from the Kansas City Royals along with Aaron Brooks in exchange for Ben Zobrist in July 2015
Since the Athletics franchise moved to Oakland in 1968, developing pitchers has been a strength of the organization. Sometimes those pitchers have been homegrown, but often the A’s have grabbed talent from other organizations and turned them into stars. Lefty Sean Manaea, acquired in the Ben Zobrist deal last July, could be the next in that line of great A’s starters acquired via trade, free agency or waiver claim.
Manaea’s road to the A’s franchise took some unusual turns. A highly touted prospect going into the 2013 MLB Draft, Manaea slid to the compensation round A thanks to questions about the health of his shoulder. The Kansas City Royals grabbed Manaea in that round and signed him to an above-slot deal. He wouldn’t make his pro debut until 2014 thanks to injury – but it was a hip injury that slowed him down rather than a shoulder injury.
In 2014, Manaea spent the entire season pitching in High-A ball for KC. He was very effective, racking up 121.2 innings pitched and posting a 3.11 ERA with a 146:54 K:BB. Manaea allowed just five homeruns during his stretch in the Carolina League, which was disabled list-free.
Sean Manaea 2015 Stats
Manaea’s 2015 season got off to a rough start when he suffered a torn abdomen during spring training. That injury cost him the first two-and-a-half months of the season. Once healthy, Manaea made rehab starts for the AZL Royals and the Royals’ High-A squad before being assigned to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he was expected to spend the rest of the season. As it turned out, Manaea would make only two starts for the Naturals before being traded to the A’s. He did remain in the Texas League, pitching out of the Midland RockHounds’ rotation for the rest of the season.
Manaea made a strong first impression on his new organization. He dominated in seven regular season starts with the RockHounds, posting a 1.90 ERA and a 51:15 K:BB in 42.2 innings. Manaea helped to propel Midland back to the post-season, where they successfully defended their Texas League crown. Manaea made two post-season starts, allowing just two earned runs in 15 innings. He struck-out 15 and walked two.
Manaea’s season continued into the fall, when he suited up for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League. Manaea led that prospect league in strike-outs with 33 and posted a 3.86 ERA in 25.2 innings. He walked six and didn’t allow a homerun.
The A’s didn’t do a lot of tinkering with Manaea when he first joined the organization, but one thing they did change right away was the grip on his change-up. Manaea had struggled with the change-up in college and all but abandoned it while with Kansas City. The A’s wanted Manaea to have another go-to secondary pitch to go along with his plus slider, so they worked with him to move to a four-seam change-up grip. It took Manaea awhile to get comfortable with the new grip, but his command of the pitch improved as the season went on.
According to A’s minor league pitching coach Steve Connelly – who served as the Mesa pitching coach this fall – Manaea spent much of his time in the AFL working on throwing his breaking ball to the back-foot of right-handed batters and pitching inside more often to lefties. Manaea also worked this fall to build a more usable pick-off move to first base.
Connelly said that Manaea’s 6’5’’ frame combined with his natural velocity makes it very difficult for hitters to get a read on his fastball.
“Obviously, he’s such a big guy that he has this kind of easy arm action, but he gets such great extension that it doesn’t look like it is 94 out of the hand or 95 out of the hand but you see it at the plate,” Connelly said. “You see the hitters react. That extension is so good that it plays at 94, 95 at the plate. It’s not like a 94 out of the hand that looks like a 90 at the plate. It gets on the hitter quick.”
A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens says that the work Manaea put in with Midland pitching coach John Wasdin last summer has him armed with three weapons that can get out major-league hitters.
“He has a deceptive delivery along with that power arsenal. He is always going to pile up a ton of strike-outs,” Owens said. “Working with John [Wasdin], he was able to tighten the command and improve his focus so that that swing-and-miss stuff that he incorporates into his arsenal is effective. Sean can get anywhere from 91 and he will touch 96. His slider can be a devastating pitch with a diagonal break. And his change-up definitely has swing-miss qualities.”
Video of Sean Manaea at the Arizona Fall League (video by Kimberly Contreras)
From a personality perspective, Manaea has been a perfect fit for an A’s organization that has always encouraged individuality and independence.
“First of all, I love the kid. He is a character and a half. The players on the team love him to death,” Connelly said. “He is sitting there cracking jokes and playing games, but anytime it is a work time for him, he’s as serious as it comes. From stretch, he doesn’t goof around. He doesn’t goof around with his conditioning. He doesn’t goof around when he is pitching in a game. He sits by himself and is completely focused on the task at hand. It’s awesome to see somebody have that switch where they can go from being a clown to being a competitor like that.”
Manaea has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. His build is reminiscent of a young C.C. Sabathia and he makes hitters as uncomfortable in the box as C.C. does. Manaea’s fastball and slider are his two best pitches, but the change-up has shown signs of out-pitch potential. Manaea is a groundball pitcher who has allowed just 10 homeruns in 196 career minor league innings.
Manaea’s biggest challenges in reaching his maximum potential in the big leagues will be commanding all of his pitches and remaining healthy. Manaea’s command has improved over the last year, but he still needs to continue to tighten that up against more advanced hitters who aren’t as likely to bail out pitchers out of the strike-zone. The lower leg issues will also be something to monitor, although the good news has been that Manaea’s shoulder has remained sound since turning pro.
Manaea is a non-roster invitee to the A’s spring training. He has an outside chance of making the A’s rotation out of spring, but the A’s have a lot of pitchers in camp with big league experience, so it would likely take a dominating spring from Manaea and a few injuries to other A’s starters for that to happen. It is much more likely that Manaea will start the year with Nashville. His progress will be closely monitored with the Sounds and he could be one of the first names called should the A’s need a starter during the season. Manaea, if healthy this year, has a strong chance of making his major-league debut at some point during the season. He will need to be added to the A’s 40-man roster this off-season regardless to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.