Although to most he’s unheard of, Sean Manaea is announced to pitch in the Kansas City Royals’ 2015 rotation. The lefty was drafted just last year and described watching the draft as a bittersweet experience.
“I heard all of these rumors from different people,” Manaea said. “It had my mind thinking about all of these different places that I [could] go. I know that I should have not listened to what other people were saying, but it was kind of hard and I gave in a little bit.”
Despite the stress of anticipation, Manaea said it was the greatest feeing he’d ever experienced.
“After awhile, I was kind of in my own world, hoping to hear my name. And when I finally did, all the weight was just lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “It was insane. The feelings that were going through my head, all my family members all started hugging me and cheering… it was a feeling I will never forget.”
And Manaea wasn’t the only one filled with emotion.
“It’s awesome and unbelievable to [conclude] Sean’s pursuit of his dream,” Manaea’s mother, Opal said. “[We’re] so proud. He’s endured so much with having to do interviews, talking to scouts and being in the spotlight.”
The 22-year-old pitcher made Indiana State University baseball history by being the second-highest draft pick in 2013. Although Manaea’s dreams were starting to come true when he was drafted 34th overall by the Kansas City Royals, he still had to make the decision to step away from a team that had been his “home” for the past three years. Manaea was drafted prior to his senior year in college and signed with the Royals for a hefty bonus of $3.55 million, which far exceeded the $1.6 million recommended for the 34th draft pick.
“When I told [my parents] what the Royals were offering me, I don’t think they had words. All of our jaws were on the floor because no one in my family, or even my close friends, had ever had that much money in their lives,” Manaea said. “It was really life changing.”
Manaea’s mother Opal said life was better for Sean after his signing.
“He’s on a steady course to fulfill his dream,” she said.
Even though his signing bonus would never suggest it, the Royals took a huge risk with signing the left-handed pitcher. When Manaea signed, the Royals were well aware of his torn ligament in his hip, which was the reason many other potential MLB teams,such as the Houston Astros, were skeptical about singing the rookie.
Manaea’s injury happed during his junior year at ISU. He was pitching great against the Minnesota Gophers in front of the prospective scouts, up until the 7th inning he will never forget what happened.
“One of the pitches that I threw I felt something weird in my hip,” Manaea said. “I did not really think anything of it and I just kept pitching. [Within] the following weeks, however, I realized that I could not put all of my weight on my plant leg.”
Manaea didn’t tell his coaches about his hip pain until they started to question him about it. Not only did he eventually give in and tell them he was hurt, but he also said he thinks this injury could have sparked his minuscule shoulder pain.
For Manaea, he never thought his professional career would have started off with a hip surgery. On June 24th, just four days after signing, Manaea endured hip surgery, forcing him to miss the end of the 2013 season. For the next five months, Manaea didn’t train with the team, but was obligated to hours of physical therapy in Surprise, Arizona, where the Royals spring training is held.
“Almost everyday, for about 4 to 5 hours, I was in the training room doing [specifically] hip, core and shoulder exercises. It wasn’t the best way to start my professional career, but I feel like it disciplined me and gave me a taste of what it’s going to be like playing [professional] baseball” Manaea said.
Today, Manaea says his hip does get sore sometimes, but otherwise he’s 100 percent healthy.
“It helped that I had some great physical therapists working with me,” Manaea said.
This season, Manaea was assigned to play with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Class-A Advanced Carolina League. On April 8, he made his minor league debut against Myrtle Beach. Unfortunately, the Blue Rocks fell short by 2 runs, but Manaea got to take the mound. Despite not throwing a ball for two weeks, Manaea pitched just over 3 innings with 5 strikeouts.
The Wanatah, Ind. native throws three pitches: a fastball, a change-up and a slider. His fastball ranges from 90 to 96 mph – mind you, he’s a rookie. And his change-up is sure to throw off any MLB batter, as it’s 10 mph slower. As for his go-to pitch, Manaea said it’s his slider, which ranges from 78 to 82 mph.
As a rookie, Manaea said he believes his biggest strength upon entering MLB is having confidence in himself and the pitches he throws.
“Every day I come to the field and have a routine that I do and with that comes confidence,” Manaea said. “I feel like every day that I’m [on the field] I better myself, and the more I better myself the more confidence I have on the mound.”
While playing in the Cape Cod League, Manaea produced headlines about himself, one of them being, “2013 Baseball Draft Prospect Is Tearing Up the Cape League.” During his time in the prestigious Cape Cod League, he pitched for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks and had only one loss on his pitching record while setting the record for the most strikeouts in one summer with 85 in just 57 innings.
The summer of 2012 also brought Manaea the B.F.C Whitehouse Top Pitcher award, and the Robert A. McNeese Outstanding Pro Prospect award, both of which were presented by the Cape Cod League. He also earned the Summer National Player of The Year by Perfect Game USA. These awards earned him the title of the Cape Cod League’s top prospect by Baseball America. After this season scouts were saying Manaea ranked among the top three prospects for the 2013 draft.
Not only did he earn awards and recognition, but he also achieved his own personal goal of hitting 90 mph within the same year.
“When I first heard that, it was crazy. My whole high school career all I wanted to do was hit 90 and it never happened,” Manaea said. “When I found out I [finally] hit 90 I was ecstatic.”
By the end of his third year with the ISU Sycamores and Coach Heller, Manaea was ranked third in the NCAA with an average of 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Within 73.1 innings, Manaea struck out an astronomical 93 batters and allowed less than 50 hits.
His sophomore year Manaea was ranked 13th in the country for the most strikeouts and broke the ISU strikeout record of 100 with 115 strikeouts in 105 innings.
Senior year in high school, Manaea transferred from a small town high school to Andrean, a 3A school versus his old 1A school. Manaea’s mother said that it was what was best for him, not just in regards to athletics, but academically as well. Most importantly, he now qualified for the NCAA college baseball program.
“Without [my family] there is no way that I would have even come close to being the man I am today,” Manaea said. “All of the money and time that they have spent on me had helped me get to where I am. Also the life lessons they have taught me over the years. I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for me.”