. Sean Manaea knew what day he would make his first spring training start for the A’s. But he still felt a thrill when he walked into the clubhouse Friday morning and saw the lineup of players that would be starting behind him, most of whom should be at O.co Coliseum on Opening Night when the A’s host the Chicago White Sox.
“I don’t really know how to say it; I just felt like I was there,” Manaea said. “It’s still spring training, but seeing all those names behind me – that was really, really cool.”
Manaea, the A’s top minor-league pitching prospect, drew the starting assignment in the team’s Cactus League home opener Friday against the Colorado Rockies and impressed coaches and teammates in his two scoreless innings. The left-hander faced eight Rockies, striking out four and allowing one hit and one walk in Oakland’s 9-4 victory. He did not allow a ball hit in the air and reached 97 mph with his fastball.
“We were impressed with him before,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “But even more so right now.”
The A’s have high hopes for Manaea, the No. 48 overall prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, whom they acquired from Kansas City at the trade deadline last season for Ben Zobrist. Friday was Manaea’s first opportunity to pitch a game in front of many members of the A’s – his parents and several cousins also were in the stands – and the 24-year-old admitted being “actually pretty nervous going in.”
“As soon as I stepped on the mound, I kind of looked down at the rubber, looked up and was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty real,’ ” Manaea said.
It’s difficult to imagine Manaea staying nervous for long. At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, he cuts an even more striking figure on the mound because of his curly Afro that billows out from under his cap on all sides. He smiled often while talking to reporters after his outing and ruefully called an errant pickoff throw in the second inning “kind of embarrassing.”
“He looks like he’s having a lot of fun out there,” Melvin said. “You throw 97 miles per hour, it’s easy to have fun. But he’s got some composure, and a lot of the technical things that youngsters have a tough time processing, it looks like it’s not a problem for him.”
Manaea retired his first batter on a groundout, issued a one-out walk, then struck out D.J. LeMahieu and got Mark Reynolds to ground out to end the inning. In the second, he struck out Nick Hundley looking and Brandon Barnes swinging at a high fastball before Kyle Parker hit a slow chopper that sneaked under third baseman Danny Valencia’s glove for a single.
Manaea threw to first base and appeared to catch Parker leaning away from the bag, but his throw sailed down the first-base line and allowed Parker to advance to third. Manaea got Rafael Ynoa to swing through a two-strike fastball, though, to escape the jam.
“I was looking at home, I did my move, and the first thing I saw was the runner, and I thought that was the first baseman,” said Manaea, who is holding runners on differently this spring by using more slide-steps. “In my mind I was like, ‘No … ’ That was kind of embarrassing, but it happens. I’ve just got to keep working on it.”
A’s officials were pleasantly surprised when they were able to pry Manaea, a first-round pick in 2013, away from the Royals last July. Given that Manaea has yet to pitch above Double A, the A’s may prefer to start him in the minors this season, but there’s a strong possibility he’ll join the rotation in Oakland this year. Friday did little to dampen that prospect.
“He has really good stuff,” said Carson Blair, who caught Manaea’s two innings. “His ball’s really heavy at the bottom of the zone, and they kept it down and mostly beat it into the ground.
“I couldn’t tell it was his first outing. He told me he had a little bit of jitters for the first few pitches, but I thought his poise was great. He looked really mature out there.”