When you’re lanky and can throw a baseball exceptionally hard, you’re not just on the Major League Baseball draft radar – you’re a focal point.
Matt Manning soon will be a pitcher for hire, with a signing bonus that can overwhelm a bank account, just as he’s done to batters who have faced his fastball.
I’m ready to find out what happens, a lot of anticipation. I never expected to see myself in this situation. I can’t hardly believe it.
The 6-foot-6, 195-pound right-hander, who recently graduated from Sheldon High School, is projected be selected anywhere from sixth to 23rd Thursday in the first round of the MLB draft.
Manning would be the 14th area player, and just the second pitcher, picked in the first round out of high school in the past 50 years. In 1974, Butch Edge, a right-hander from El Camino, was chosen by the Milwaukee Brewers at No. 6, the highest for a player from this region.
Manning will be camped out at the family home watching the draft, eager yet anxious. He knows his life is about to change.
“I’m ready to find out what happens, a lot of anticipation,” he said. “I never expected to see myself in this situation. I can’t hardly believe it.”
Manning is a top prospect because he throws heat; it’s hard to hit what your eyes cannot catch up to. He has been clocked regularly in the mid-90s, and he’s touched 98 and 99 mph. And he’s still learning how to pitch, having taken it up seriously a little more than a year ago. In eight starts this year, he went 2-1 with a 1.91 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings.
Teams also are enamored with Manning’s athletic ability – he is a standout basketball player – and project that when he adds weight, it will increase his fastball’s velocity. Scouts also like his maturity. He’s only 18, but he’s an old soul – quiet, reflective, humble, grateful.
“He’s got a tremendous future for all of those reasons, and let’s face it, when you throw as hard as he does, people take notice,” said one National League scout, who couldn’t speak on the record because it might tip his team’s hand.
Manning has learned that baseball no longer is just fun and games. It’s a business.
A horde of scouts at Sheldon games was common, a sea of radar guns lifting while Manning went into his windup. Representatives from 30 teams have sat in his living room in recent weeks, not to talk about the meatloaf in the oven, and he’s worked out for several teams.
“When teams come into the house, they talk about what life will be like in the minor leagues, what my projection might be, to get ready for a lifestyle change,” Manning said. “They want to get a feel for who I am, what I’m thinking and going through.”
Manning’s father can help deal with the change. Rich Manning played eight years of professional basketball, including two seasons in the NBA.
Father and son are similar in their low-key approach. They are thinkers more than talkers.
“I’m extremely proud of how Matt has handled this,” said Rich, a mortgage loan officer in Sacramento. “I’ve seen it firsthand, how kids crumble with all those scouts out there. Matt’s done all he can, and now it’s out of our control. We’re just riding the wave.”
Another part of the baseball business is the dissemination of false information. Reports have said Matt is scaring off some teams by demanding a $5 million signing bonus.
“I don’t know where that’s coming from, and there are a lot of rumors that are not accurate,” Matt said. “We never put a number out.”
Matt could receive a signing bonus of $3 million, $4 million or even more, depending on how high he’s chosen in the draft. But it’s a guess where he’ll be selected and by which team.
Rich Manning, who said he’s the numbers and research guy, has crunched a lot of data, asking as many questions of the MLB executives as they have of him.
“It’s no longer a game just for fun. It’s about finances now, too,” Rich said. “I think I bring a unique perspective for Matt. I’ve been through this, in a different sport, but still in sports. People can’t come into our house and snow us.”
Because of his father, Matt understands investing. If he receives a hefty signing bonus, it’ll last.
I’m extremely proud of how Matt has handled this. I’ve seen it firsthand, how kids crumble with all those scouts out there. Matt’s done all he can, and now it’s out of our control. We’re just riding the wave.
Rich Manning, Matt Manning’s father
“Putting it in perspective,” Rich said with a laugh, “Matt will get more in a signing bonus than I made in my eight years of pro ball. And what he signs for won’t last his whole life. The money will be invested for his future.
“If he signs, he’ll have about seven years to reach the major leagues. And the signing bonus puts pressure on kids. Too many think they’ve arrived with that bonus when, really, they’re just beginning.”
The Mannings will have family and friends at their house to track the draft. If Matt decides not to sign, he has the option to attend Loyola Marymount to play baseball and basketball on scholarship.
In other words, he has a dream two-way scenario. For now, Matt embraces any semblance of normalcy.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time with my brothers, Ryan and Jake, hanging out,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to relieve stress, to just be a kid.”
Sacramento-area first-round picks out of high school in the Major League Baseball draft: