"Manaea is considered the guy with the most upside, and probably the type of player we didn't think we could get in this type of deal." - Billy Beane
Early in the spring of 2013, everyone was talking about two names, Sean Manaea and Mark Appel. The conversation: which one would be the first overall pick in the MLB Draft?
The year before, the Pirates drafted Appel with the eighth overall pick, but they failed to sign him -- he reportedly wanted first overall money. The big righty returned to Stanford for his senior year to graduate and raise his profile. Manaea, in contrast, was a 6-foot-5-inch, lightly recruited lefty from Indiana State, who had a coming out party on the Cape the summer before. He went 5-1 with a 1.22 ERA and struck out 85 batters and walked seven in 51 2/3 innings. He also had the stuff to prove it: a 93-96 mph fastball he could command, a wipeout slider, and a deceptive delivery that allowed all of this to play up.
That spring, near the end of a start at the now-demolished Metrodome (Minneapolis, Minn.), Manaea tweaked his hip. As the days and weeks passed, he started to change his delivery to compensate for the increasingly balky injury. This was a terrible idea, for several reasons. First, it was his stuff and command to wane. Then it was a barking shoulder. By the end of the spring, amid mounting injury concerns, Manaea's draft stock tumbled. Appel went first overall to the Astros.
The Royals, in one the savvier draft maneuvers in recent years, used their inaugural competitive balance pick to select Manaea 34th overall. All-in on Manaea, they drafted Hunter Dozier with their first pick, knowing he was likely to sign for way less than the recommended slot value for the eighth overall pick (he did). With the money saved, they signed Manaea for $3.55 million -- that's $2 million over the recommended bonus.
The rest is history. Manaea had surgery to repair the labrum in his hip, his sore shoulder went away, and now, two years removed from surgery, he may yet be the best pitcher to surface from the 2013 draft class.
Longtime #Royals player Billy Butler has seen Sean Manaea and said he has tremendous stuff. Thought KC considered Manaea untouchable.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 28, 2015
Manaea hasn't quite regained the mid-nineties fastball he flashed on the Cape in 2012, but it's still a really really good pitch. Baseball Prospectus's most recent eyewitness report (check it out, it's free) has Manaea's fastball mostly 91-94 mph, although it continues to play up due to the deception in his delivery. The question evaluators ask is whether or not he'll be able to command the pitch. At times last summer, he showed a 95-96 mph heater that he could throw for strikes. This summer, he's been more erratic, which may have something to do with the shoulder injury that cost him April and May.
His out pitch continues to be the slider. He throws it harder than his days at Indiana State; it's comfortably in the mid-eighties. He uses it to get ahead of batters and to put them away. The last piece, of course, is the change-up. It reportedly has some tumble and fade, but, like most young pitchers, he has a tendency to throw it too firmly.
From watching some video, it looks like there's some definite funk to his delivery. He throws from a high three-quarters arm angle, which is great for the angles he creates, but he gains this through scapular loading (the inverted-w, gasp!). His giant frame won't do him any favors in terms of his ability to repeat it. He could be at risk for shoulder injuries, but overall, it looks like a great delivery. In the aforementioned Scouting Report, BP's Tucker Blair summarizes Manaea's future, saying:
Manaea is an advanced arm and would be close to the majors if not for the shoulder injury that sidelined him earlier this season. The only issue with Manaea is the command, which coincides with his ability to maintain tempo and hit the checkpoints in his delivery. -BP Eyewitness Report, Dated 6/30/2015
Manaea probably has the stuff to pitch in a major league rotation right now. Three above-average pitches coming from a 6-foot-5-inch, 235-pound lefty is, well, scary. The consensus seems to be that if he can command his pitches, the sky is indeed the limit. He immediately becomes the A's top pitching prospect.
Brooks is the secondary piece in the deal. He was drafted in the ninth round out of Cal State San Bernandino in 2011, and has essentially been shuttled back and forth between Omaha, where the Royals Triple-A team – the Storm Chasers – play, and Kansas City. He only pitched only 2 2/3 (comical) innings in 2014, allowing 13 earned runs in those two-plus frames. He's slated to make his second career major league start for the A's on Saturday. Let's hope for the best.
Here's what BP's CJ Wittmann tweeted out after the trade:
Aaron Brooks: stiff throughout core, struggles to repeat delivery. Big arm strength and potential avg. SL. Reliever profile. #As— CJ Wittmann (@CJWittJr) July 28, 2015