Minor League Spring Training games began yesterday, and when I heard Sean Manaea would be on the hill, the decision for which game to attend was easy. The Kansas City Royals took Manaea in the supplemental round of last Junes draft, and paid him a record $3.55 million, but after the two innings I saw of him Thursday, they got a steal.
From the moment Manaea stepped on the mound to throw his warm up pitches, you could hear the pop of the ball hitting the catchers glove over the pitcher on the next field, fungos on the one to the right, guys throwing bullpens behind the field, and even the few players getting in extra tee work.
He faced the minimum six batters in his two innings of work, including two strikeouts. He pounded the strike zone, as his first six pitches, all fastballs, were all strikes. The hardest contact he allowed was against the first batter he faced, Texas Rangers outfield prospect Lewis Brinson, who hit a firm ground ball to the right of the second baseman, who was able to make a nice play on the ball. The third batter he faced was a top 100 prospect, Joey Gallo. After getting ahead 0-1, he threw back-to-back sliders just off the outside corner for balls. While both just did miss the zone, the slider showed as a plus pitch that could get a big league hitter out now. He wound up getting a foul out to the third baseman to end the inning.
I didn’t notice any change-ups (the second inning I stood off to the first base side to get a good look at his throwing motion) but his fastball and slider are already plus pitches. His fastball sat between 93 and 94 MPH, and while Brinson made the best contact, nobody made good contact on Manaea. He finished off his day by splitting a bat on an inside fastball to a left handed hitter that turned into a flyout to shallow right.
Manaea flashed solid control in his two innings, as the catcher rarely had to move his glove to get to the ball, but despite the excellent outing, you could see he is not exactly in mid-season form. He throws across his body quite a bit, and his armed lagged just slightly behind his body Thursday. There is also a lot of torque through his hips, making his hip issues leading up to the draft understandable, but with his size, I don’t see it being a long-term concern. He pitches with a 3/4-to-low-3/4 arm slot from the left side, and has a very deliberate delivery. His balance is excellent on the hill, from his big leg kick to his high back leg on the follow through. He absolutely has a presence about him, and his 6’5″ 235 lbs. frame has a lot to do with that.
He will probably kick off the season at High-A, which was the squad he was pitching for yesterday, but should be a quick mover through the minors. Barring another injury setback, Manaea should be in big league camp next spring, and while his stuff could probably play at the big league level this season, the Royals will likely want to see him put in a full season of health in the minors before considering him for the big club.
His fastball plays much better than the 94 MPH gun suggests, as it comes in heavy and plays as elite from a left-handed pitcher. His slider could get a bit sharper, but that would simply improve his grade from a 60 to 65 for me, and while I didn’t get a good look at his change, other scouts say it might be a better pitch than the slider. It would not surprise me at all if Manaea turns out to be a better big league pitcher than fellow Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer, as I can see Manaea being a legit number two starter.