MINNEAPOLIS -- Indiana State's Sean Manaea exploded on the amateur scene this past summer in the Cape Cod League when he started hitting 96 mph regularly with a wipeout slider, dominating the league with 85 strikeouts and just 7 walks in 55 innings.
The left-hander hadn't been quite the same animal through four starts this spring, although all had come in less than ideal weather conditions, making his matchup against Minnesota at the Metrodome on Friday night something of a test for him. Unfortunately, he wasn't as electric as I had hoped.
Manaea pitched at 92-94 early in the game and was 89-93 by the ninth inning in his complete-game win against Minnesota, one aided by a healthy dose of #umpshow at a few critical points. (The game ended on a blown safe/out call at the plate, and Manaea also got away with a balk or two on pickoff throws to first.)
He commanded the fastball just about all night, starting to slide a little in the eighth inning, and showed no fear with the pitch even when going after hitters within the strike zone. His secondary stuff, on the other hand, was ordinary, an average slider at 78-82 that he never seemed to finish properly and a changeup in that same velocity range that had decent arm speed but, despite a split-like grip, has no significant action to it. The fastball plays, and the velocity comes pretty easily, but he needs to show at least one plus off-speed pitch to justify that No. 2 ranking on my most recent Future 50.
Manaea's arm isn't especially quick, but he generates velocity by taking a very long stride toward the plate and getting some torque from hip rotation. He has a high leg kick and stays over the rubber well before driving forward. His arm action is a little long in back; when his front foot lands, he's still showing the ball to the center fielder, only pronating after his front leg is already planted. He comes from a slot below three-quarters, somewhere in the Clayton Richard-Madison Bumgarner range, and should be very tough on lefties even if the slider isn't more than average. If he finished that pitch later and stronger out in front, it might be plus again, as it was this past summer. For now, he's still really interesting because of the velocity and command, but I couldn't take the guy I saw tonight in the top five picks -- and certainly wouldn't take him ahead of Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray today.
• Minnesota lefty Tom Windle, who threw a no-hitter last week, was solid again this week, although, like Manaea, he didn't show overpowering off-speed stuff. Windle sat at 91 in the first and worked from 88 to 92 until the ninth, when his velocity started to slip, too. He throws a soft-breaking, fringy slider at 78-84, even using it in more typical changeup situations despite the fact that he has a solid-average changeup at 82-83.
Windle stays tall over the rubber, taking a more modest stride than Manaea, with a much shorter and less fluid arm action and much less hip rotation, meaning he's generating more of his velocity with his arm than with his lower half. He had more confidence in his slider than Manaea did in his off-speed pitches, even though it wasn't a plus pitch, and he threw a ton of strikes. Windle isn't a projection guy per se, but I could see him touching a few 94s later on in the spring, and a 6-foot-4 lefty with a solid-average fastball and chance for two average off-speed pitches is usually a late first-round pick.