MESA, Ariz. – By all accounts, Sean Manaea delivered Sunday.
The A’s prized pitching prospect impressed during his session off the mound, in front of an audience that included Oakland general manager David Forst and other front office officials.
He entertained with his look, sporting a can’t-miss hairdo that Manaea describes as a “Samo-fro.”
More than anything, he offered an up-close look at why Oakland’s brain trust was thrilled to land him in last summer’s trade that sent Ben Zobrist to Kansas City.
“There’s a lot to him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said after the A’s first workout of 2016. “There’s funk in his delivery, there’s extension. There’s the hair, the movement. There’s a lot with this guy to be excited about. You could understand what all the hoopla is about based on the fact that he looks to be a very talented guy with an assortment of pitches.”
Fans should temper their enthusiasm to a degree. Forst says it’s “unlikely” the 6-foot-5 lefty will break camp with the major league club, which isn’t a surprise to hear. But it’s very possible that at some point this season the A’s call on the 24-year-old Manaea, the team’s No. 2 prospect ranked by Baseball America. That same publication rates Manaea No. 48 among all major league prospects.
After coming over in the July 28 trade and joining Double-A Midland, Manaea dominated Texas League hitters to the tune of a 1.90 ERA over seven starts and 51 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. He followed up by leading the Arizona Fall League in strikeouts.
No one in Oakland’s camp knows Manaea better than minor league catcher Bruce Maxwell, who was behind the plate for many of his starts last year for Midland. The left-handed hitting Maxwell also faced Manaea when both played in a wood-bat summer league a few years back.
“He can snap you off a breaking ball that could end up in on you, or down and away on the ground,” Maxwell said. “But he can also throw a fastball at your chin or throw the same fastball down and away. He’s got so much versatility with the smoothness of his arm and delivery. It’s very difficult to catch a pattern.”
Describing Manaea’s three-quarters delivery, Maxwell drew a lofty comparison to describe Manaea’s ability to intimidate left-handed hitters.
“He’s a Samoan Randy Johnson. He has the long delivery, he’s got the size and the angle for everything. It makes things very, very tough.”
Injuries have limited Manaea since he was drafted out of Indiana State 34th overall by the Royals in 2013. He didn’t make his professional debut until 2014 following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. His start to last season was delayed due to abdominal and groin injuries.
Scouting reports say Manaea still needs to sharpen his overall command. But he throws a fastball that touches the upper 90’s and complements it with a slider and changeup that he wants to hone this season as an effective third pitch.
“I know there’s a lot of great things that are happening right now,” he said. “I just need to keep a level head and do whatever I can to keep improving. To me, that means not letting my emotions get the best of me, even though there are a lot of people watching.”
A’s catcher Josh Phegley, who caught Manaea on Sunday, came away impressed with the lefty’s stuff. Phegley is from Terre Haute, Indiana, and he’d heard about his fellow Indiana native but had never seen Manaea before meeting him this spring.
His first impression of the hairstyle?
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“Not anything that I’d imagined,” Phegley admitted, “especially a guy from Indiana.”
Manaea said he’s been letting his hair grow out since May, which jibes with his laid-back and fun-loving nature. Midland pitching coach John Wasdin said he peaked out of his office last season and saw Manaea piecing together a Lego set at his locker.
“We went to an aquarium in Corpus Christi when we were down there, and he bought a submarine Lego set. It was hilarious.
“He likes to think, put stuff together. Honestly, I think just that little quirk of his helps him on the mound. He’s good with situations. He’s not a newcomer when it comes to complex thinking.”