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I'll be grading Manaea's tools using the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is major league average, and tools are graded in 5 point increments (45 is below average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 70 is plus-plus). For any questions about the terminology in this report, feel free to ask in the premium message boards or shoot a message to me on Twitter @kileymcd.
With Stanford righty Mark Appel (unsigned as the 8th overall pick by the Pirates in the 2012 draft) sitting out the summer, Manaea took a leap forward and is considered by many scouts to be the favorite in an unsettled field to go #1 overall in June.
I saw Manaea's first start of his junior campaign along with about 40 scouts and 20 fans in a frigid night for the Bulldog Classic in Huntsville, AL against Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne. It was in the 40s at first pitch with a stiff breeze and two northern-based teams playing in their first game of the season, so things got a little sloppy.
If it seems like I'm making excuses for Manaea's performance, I am. He was notorious on the Cape for siting 93-96 in every start and routinely hitting 97 mph late in games. Manaea has a big, athletic frame and easy delivery and arm action, so those things combined with his track record show that stamina and holding his velocity aren't an issue.
For these reasons, scouts were a little surprised that Manaea's velocity fell off pretty quickly in this start: 92-95, touching 96 mph in the 1st inning, 90-92 mph in the 4th and 88-91 before being pulled in the 5th. I don't point this out because I'm concerned going forward, but it's worth noting since it wasn't expected. I expect to hear from scouts about Manaea hitting 97 late in starts as soon as a couple weeks from now—this is a universal thing to see early in the season for pitchers, particularly in first appearances in cold weather for players from up north who haven't had a ton of reps yet.
To the pure scouting end of things, Manaea's fastball is very impressive. I'll talk about his delivery more in that section, but his easy arm stroke, deliberate tempo and length to his frame allow his fastball to play up and get on the hitters quick. Manaea's heater flashed above average two-seam (sink and run to arm side) life and he had feel to locate to both sides of the plate, especially showing an ability to come inside to right-handed hitters. He had some command issues I'll cover in that section.
Manaea's first breaking ball of the night was 80 mph with three-quarter tilt that broke across the plate with tight spin and it was a plus pitch. The rest of the night, his breaker ranged 78-83 mph whereas on the Cape it was more of an 82-85 mph true slider. The tilt and break of his slurve varied throughout the night, mostly a 50 or 55 pitch that would occasionally backup on him and locating it to his arm side gave him some trouble. Again, some of this can be chalked up to the conditions, but the word from the Cape was the breaking ball was his clear third pitch and it was inconsistent, though it seems to be slowly progressing as it didn't flash plus potential in many outings on the Cape.
Manaea's changeup was largely the same as it was on the Cape, but he only threw a few as the IPFW lineup was overmatched and there was no reason to throw anything to speed their bats up. He threw the pitch at 80-84 mph and also showed a couple plus ones early in the game with the late darting action that is rare to find in a deception pitch like a changeup. There was consistent arm speed, fade and bottom to the pitch and while it wasn't plus later in his start, Manaea's feel for the pitch is a little more advanced than his breaking ball.
Manaea is a rare, gifted athlete with a long, broad, filled-out 6'5, 235 pound frame that is rare to find at his age. He also is the rare young pitcher with a mid 90's fastball whose arm doesn't lag behind his body to help create the velocity. Manaea's arm is pointing to the sky at foot plant and that really boosts his long-term prospects for health and command. He also has a clean arm action that's above average despite a little length to the arm circle that costs him some deception (though that is cancelled out some by the angle he takes to the plate that helps hide his arm more behind his body).
His three-quarters arm slot is a little lower than the conventional high three quarters but also isn't a concern and allows him to impart more horizontal spin on the ball, particularly for movement on his fastball. I like Manaea's aggressive stride to the plate, although it exacerbates the awkwardness of his landing on the outside of his foot caused by the angle he takes to the plate. He decelerates his arm well and pitches into a solid front side, which help his arm health and command prospects.
Manaea had some command issues in this start, much of which could be chalked up to the temperature affecting his feel for the ball. That said, he also showed some inefficiency and inconsistency in his delivery that he'll need to clean up. He throws across his body (points his feet at the left-handed batter's box at release) and the way he compensates to get his body square with the plate, along with a little effort at release affects his command.
These are relatively easy things to fix for pro instructors, as Manaea's raw talent is so great, he doesn't have to resort to taking angles and creating effort to have plus stuff and only slight adjustments can enhance his command. After looking at some video from the Cape, his delivery was quieter over the summer, so some of this could be something he'll tone done throughout the amateur season.
Manaea's deception is played up by his deliberate tempo, but at times he can move too slowly and start a chain reaction that also affects his command. I noticed a handful of pitches where his motion was noticeably slower and I was expecting a changeup, but he threw a fastball, always up in the zone. I noticed later in the game that when Manaea did this, his motion and arm slowed, lagging behind his body and when he released the ball, he was getting under it and leaning back some, pitching against a stiff front leg. This is easy to see when you're looking for it because instead of seeing the ball and his fingers on top of it at release, you see his wrist and the ball goes up in the zone. Manaea doesn't even have to change his tempo to fix this, just be a little better at regulating his tempo. Some feel for advanced body control comes later in the career for big pitchers and with Manaea turning a physical corner in the last six to eight months, its reasonable to see this improving.
The picture I've painted here is of a big, athletic left-hander with plus stuff than could be a #1 overall pick and #1 starter if things go well. Pitching against poor competition at a small northern school and growing into his frame at a late stage make him not quite as polished and with a shorter track record than previous top picks, but scouts raved about Manaea's Cape League domination, so this isn't a huge concern.
The athletic gifting, reliance on his fastball and positive arm health indicators along with solid makeup reports are enough for me to make Manaea my top prospect for the 2013 draft. His left-handedness, athleticism and slightly higher upside make up the gap between him and Stanford's Appel. Manaea isn't a historic talent--David Price was a superior prospect and I slightly prefer Kevin Gausman to Manaea--but the potential is here for a special pitcher.