The Oakland Athletics will officially call up top pitching prospect Sean Manaea to start Friday evening's game against the Houston Astros today. As corresponding moves, catcher-outfielder Matt McBride was optioned to Triple-A Nashville, and Sam Fuld was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.
The "Throwin' Samoan" has been dominant in three starts, striking out 21 and walking four in 18 innings while allowing one home run. Even when batters weren't striking out over-and-over they were only making weak contact, as was the case when he struck out just four in a game at high-altitude Colorado Springs. The Sky Sox were limited to six hits in six innings. Manaea actually left that game with a 5-1 lead before the Nashville bullpen coughed up seven runs for an 8-7 loss.
Sean Manaea's stuff does indeed look good. Reports had his fastball averaging around 93MPH and hitting 94-96 MPH, which seemed reasonable from my vantage point. (I guessed maybe he was throwing mostly 93MPH and topping out at 95MPH.) Most notably, his fastball has a ton of run away from a RH batter, which should make him difficult to pull -- batters will need to essentially hook the ball in order to turn that pitch around and pull it. Manaea's slider and changeup offered effective secondary options and he was definitely not very hittable.
The only caveat was the one you would expect if you have followed Manaea's career to date: his control was not always pinpoint sharp. He looked to me exactly as I imagined, which is someone whose stuff could play in the big leagues right now but who could use a couple months' seasoning at AAA to master his control. You will be seeing Manaea sooner rather than later, methinks.
Here's an excerpt from Nico's interview with Manaea about his pitching and his Samoan heritage:
Hmm...My dad was born in American Samoa, in Laulii (la-WEE-ee) and he came over to Hawaii when he was in 20s, fought in Vietnam, then got stationed in Indiana. He got married had my half-brother - my bigger brother - then they separated and my dad met my mom, had my older brother. He's 26, he's stationed in Roda, Spain right now. He's in the Navy, so that's really cool. And then they had me, in Wanatah, Indiana. It's a really small town: there's less than 1,000 people and there's only one stoplight, and there's a Subway and a Burger King. So that's kind of what I grew up in. I mean, I love it there; you've got all the four seasons. Sometimes the winters can be pretty brutal but I still love it over there and a lot of my family still lives in Indiana.
I've got family in Samoa and Hawaii, and I just met my dad's side of the family for the first time, last off-season, because we never really had money to go traveling. So that was really cool!
Our occasional PITCHf/x expert, Dan Lependorf, chimed in last October on what the data was showing in one of Manaea's Arizona Fall League starts:
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.
If Manaea is staying up in the major league rotation, one concern is the paucity of innings he threw last year, though he's thrown more than a simple glance at his stat line suggests. Besides the 92 1/3 regular season minor league innings he threw in 2015, Manaea also made three starts and threw 18 innings in the Texas League on the way to a RockHounds title, and he tossed 25 2/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League. In all, Manaea recorded 136 innings pitched last year, a modest increase from the 121 2/3 innings with Kansas City's High-A club in 2014.
How Manaea got to the Oakland organization
The Kansas City Royals drafted Manaea 34th overall in the June 2013, but he only fell that far because of injury concerns. He still signed for a $3.55 million bonus, $2 million over slot and made his professional debut in 2014, where he struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings at High-A Wilmington.
With the Royals coming off an AL pennant and searching for a return trip to the World Series, Kansas City sent Manaea and Aaron Brooks to the A's for Ben Zobrist and cash last July. Zobrist went on to hit seven home runs for the Royals in 59 games, and two more home runs in the postseason.
Manaea's trade line is part of the sprawling line that goes back to the acquisition of Johnny Damon (and Mark Ellis and Cory Lidle) for Ben Grieve, A.J. Hinch, and Angel Berroa:
What everyone else is saying
Baseball Prospectus (subscription required for full article)
"[Manaea] can be especially tough on same-side hitters due to the deception in his delivery, but its high-maintenance qualities can cause difficulty in regards to repetition."
Oakland Clubhouse, speaking to Sean Manaea last weekend
One challenge Manaea continues to work on is figuring out why his command can disappear in small spurts.
"I don't know [why it happens]," Manaea said. "A loss of focus, maybe, for just a short amount of time. It's something I need to work on."
FanGraphs: The Sleeper and the Bust podcast
"I thought you were going to apologize for someone going for the crown and taking the baseball hair title from me.
He's a big dude that has inconsistent mechanics a little bit, probably related to his size. [...] This spring when he went up against major league hitters for basically the first time he walked a guy every two innings. [...] But he did strike out 16 in 14 spring innings, and that's basically in line with the 10 strikeouts or so per nine that he's done in the minor leagues.
"Manaea can miss bats better than most young pitchers, giving him a chance to pile up strikeouts. The walks that come with it will keep him from posting great WHIPs."
But what makes Manaea special -- in addition to his three average-or-better pitches, that is -- is his knack for inducing swings and misses as well as weak contact. The left-hander has averaged 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings over 214 career frames, and he's surrendered just 11 home runs (0.5 HR/9) in that span.
Manager Bob Melvin, via the San Francisco Chronicle
I haven't been this pumped for a prospect call up since Sonny Gray was called up in 2013, and maybe not since Tim Hudson was called up in 1999. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM at the Coliseum!