The Arizona Fall League played its annual Fall Stars Game on Saturday, and Oakland A's prospect Sean Manaea started for the East All-Stars. The lefty was dominant over his two scoreless innings, striking out four of the seven batters he faced and allowing just a walk.
Manaea's best pitch is his fastball, and he showed that right out of the gate. In the first inning, he began with four fastballs to the leadoff man, gradually dialing the velocity up as high as 97, and then snapped off a slider high in the zone to induce a swing-and-miss for strike three.
The next two batters saw exclusively heaters -- eight of them in total, six of which were balls. The first of those batters grounded out, but by the time Jurickson Profar had finished walking on four pitches you could start to understand the observations that Manaea's command is still a work in progress. Needing to mix things up, the lefty included at least one slider against Gary Sanchez, and ultimately Sanchez lined out (Gameday doesn't know what type of pitch he lined out on, and I don't remember from the broadcast either). In all, Manaea threw 17 pitches in the 1st, and at least 14 of them were fastballs.
In the second frame, we saw a bit more of his arsenal. The leadoff man saw a changeup early on, and later he got a 95 mph fastball followed by an 81 mph slider in on his hands. At this point the broadcaster made a good observation -- it's not that Manaea's slider is that amazing on its own, but rather he was doing a fantastic job of setting it up with his intimidating fastball (and a bit of "effective wildness," aligning with the aforementioned inconsistent command). How intimidating? Here is danmerqury in the comments of our game thread:
Uh, so I just took a quick look at the PITCHf/x data. ...
21 fastballs, 94.8 mph, 10.7 inches of tail, 12.0 inches of rise, and 3150 rpms of backspin (!!!!!). That's 80 grade backspin. That's Sean Doolittle on his best day type of stuff. That's a fastball that matches the scouting reports that used the word "unhittable".
If these readings are calibrated properly (no guarantee of that, of course), Sean Manaea's fastball is Doolittle + tail.
And then, right on cue, Manaea did it again. The second batter of the 2nd inning got three fastballs at 94, 94, and 95, all up-and-in to the lefty hitter, and then a 79 mph slider that began up-and-in but dropped right on the inside corner to freeze him.
The final batter saw something a bit different, as three of his five pitches were classified as cutters. I don't know if that is correct or not, but I do agree that the final Strike 3 did not look like a slider. I wonder if it was actually his changeup, but got misclassified either because he throws so hard or because it simply didn't move like it was supposed to? We're getting beyond my expertise as an eyeball scout, so we'll just leave it at "a tertiary option behind the heater and slider." Either way, the first offspeed pitch stayed up but caught the righty batter looking, the next one was fouled off, and (after another fastball to mix the speeds) the final one broke down around his ankles and got the batter to go too far around on a checked swing.
Here is a video from MLB.com so that you can at least see the highlights. These are the final pitches of each of his four strikeouts, so you're getting three sliders (but not the heaters that set them up) and one of the cutter/change/whatevers.
My takeaways from this start:
- Manaea's fastball is for real, which is good since it's supposed to be his top tool. Granted, he won't necessarily be throwing 97 mph when he's making full-length starts, but if he's in the 93-95 range then that's fine. In Dan's quote above, he mentions scouts using the word "unhittable," and that term is straight out of his MLB.com scouting report. I don't think it's an exaggeration.
- He does indeed have work to do on his control and command, but he also showed how he will sometimes be able to get away with some wildness. Effective wildness is not a long-term strategy to rely on, but it gives me a hint that even when things aren't going quite right he might still be able to find ways to retire hitters.
- We got to see a glimpse of his pickoff move. Profar broke too early from first base (on first move, I presume?), but Manaea took so long to get the ball to first (both a slow move and a weak throw) that by the time the first baseman got the ball and relayed it to second base Profar was safe easily. So, mixed results, I suppose; good job catching the runner, but bad job executing the rest of the play to turn it into an out. I don't know if this was just a one-time mistake in a big game when we all happened to be watching, or if this is an area he needs to work on.
- In the interest of full disclosure, I have to share something that I found while researching. All four batters Manaea struck out played in High-A this year, so it's not like he just dominated a bunch of Triple-A hitters and is now definitely ready to debut in Oakland. Granted, these particular High-A hitters were good enough to start in the AFL All-Star Game, and most are in their teams' top-20 lists, but it just seemed noteworthy. The most advanced hitter he faced was Profar, who has MLB experience, but he didn't hit the zone once in that at-bat.
Pinder & Nunez
Oh, Chad Pinder (SS) and Renato Nunez (3B) both started as well.
- Pinder played the whole game but didn't have a great day -- he struck out in his first at-bat, grounded out his next time up, and then bounced into a double play in his third trip. Meanwhile, he made an error in the field by flubbing a routine ground ball, though it didn't lead to any runs. However, he did manage to collect a hit in his final at-bat, knocking a sharp single the other way into right field. Pinder is big for a middle infielder, standing 6'2, and after seeing him in the batter's box I'm no longer surprised that he's started hitting for so much power. As for speed, he wasn't burning down the line on his groundouts but he also wasn't butlering either; I'd call his speed average.
- Nunez only got two at-bats and went 0-for-2, with a weak groundout and a strikeout. To his credit, though, he hustled down the line on the groundout -- I believe he beat out the infield hit because the first baseman's foot came off the bag, but the ump ruled that the foot stayed on long enough and Nunez was called out.
The Mesa Solar Sox play their next game on Monday at 5:35 p.m. PT.