The winding path of soon-to-debut pitcher prospect Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea has posted a 1.50 ERA and 1.11 WHIP at Triple-A Nashville so far this season. Norm Hall/Getty Images

When he makes his major league debut for the Oakland Athletics tonight, left-handed starting pitcher Sean Manaea's name will be a new one to most observers.

He's not new to ESPN Insider.

From the first scouting profile written of him in August 2012, when the Indiana native was pitching for the Indiana State Sycamores, to a first-hand account of him from Keith Law this spring, ESPN Insider has posted dozens of reports on him, including regular updates on him prior to him being drafted 34th overall (by the Kansas City Royals) in the 2013 draft. It's what we do.

Here are the highlights, and if you're so inclined, we suggest you click on a few links to take a trip in the wayback machine. Reading about high school or college kids well before they would become big leaguers or even stars has a fun "ESPN Classic" feel to it.

And as you'll see with Manaea, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing all along; you can see some low points in his prospect development as well:

Early top 30 draft prospects for 2013 (Aug. 28, 2012)

From Keith Law: Manaea (ranked No. 4 in top 30) came out of nowhere this summer, sitting 91-96 mph with an above-average slider. His arm slot's a little low and he pronates pretty late, which can put a little extra stress on the arm over time.

Manaea emerges as No. 1 overall candidate (Jan. 24, 2013)

From Teddy Mitrosilis: Coming out of high school, Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea wasn't a high-profile recruit. He had a good frame and some arm strength, but he was wild. He'd hit the glove on one pitch and dent a backstop on the next. His mechanics were sloppy and he struggled to repeat an action. But he did have that arm strength.

"He was our No. 2 starter last year but was very dominating," Indiana State pitching coach Tyler Herbst said. "He pitched around 90-92 and would touch 93-94. He worked hard every day on his mechanics, and his slider and split-change got better.

"But then he went to the Cape and made a name."

It's hard to explain how Manaea did what he did in the Cape Cod League over the summer, but here's what it looked like: 51 2/3 innings, 21 hits, 85 strikeouts, 7 walks, 1.22 ERA. His fastball was 94-96 mph and touched 98. At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds with elite stuff, Manaea looks the part of a coveted prospect and has emerged as one of the early candidates for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

He threw his third bullpen of the spring a few days ago and told Herbst he was throwing about "80 percent." Manaea was touching 93.

"I think he'll have even another jump in his velocity," Herbst said. "He's getting really good at feeling what he's doing mechanically. I wouldn't be surprised if he pushes the limit at 99-100 mph this season."

Appel leads strong college crop (Feb. 21, 2013)

From Jason A. Churchill: [Mark] Appel, who probably has the best fastball among the college starters, is joined by Indiana State southpaw Sean Manaea among those receiving buzz as a possible No. 1 overall pick after a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound left-hander, who was not drafted out of high school, offers a 92-96 mph fastball and a slider that has improved since the start of last season, which has flipped Manaea's long-term future from closer prospect to potential frontline arm. Manaea's delivery is deliberate but fairly clean, and he throws from a three-quarters slot to create some deception.

Updated scouting report (March 1, 2013)

From Christopher Crawford: There were some concerns that grew out of Manaea's (March 9, 2013) start. For the third straight outing, his velocity dropped significantly the second time through the lineup, and he struggled to command his secondary offerings for most of the day.

"He hasn't been the same pitcher he was this summer" an American League scout said. "In the (Cape Cod League), he was mid-90s with a wipeout slider and a dive-bomb changeup. What I've seen this year has been more along the lines of low- to mid-90s fastball with an above-average slider and an average change. That's a first-round guy, but that's not a top-five pick to me. I need to see that guy from the summer come back."

MLB spotlight on Sean Manaea (March 14, 2013)

From Teddy Mitrosilis: You almost want to tap Sean Manaea on the shoulder, politely, and remind him to look both ways before crossing.

There's a flood of traffic heading his way now, beginning this Friday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, when he pitches against Minnesota in front of a full house of professional evaluators. As the weeks tick down to the MLB draft in June, more of those evaluators will come to critique every inch of Manaea's 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame. They will look for reasons not to like him, and you wonder, by his tone and demeanor, if he's oblivious to how intense the examination will be.

"Yeah, I threw my bullpen today and just, uh, had a chillax day," the Indiana State left-hander said after practice two days before his scheduled start against Minnesota.

"Chillax" is an apt description of Manaea, and it would make some sense if he really was oblivious to the deluge of attention that will soon wash over the projected high-first-round pick in full force.

He grew up in Wanatah, Indiana -- a quiet place "surrounded by corn," he said -- with a Samoan father who served in Vietnam before settling in Indiana and grinding in the steel mills. Manaea was also accompanied by his American mother, who spent her working years clocking hours in an aluminum-can factory, among other jobs.

Manaea loves baseball and has always been pretty good at it, but he was very raw as a high school player, and there were never any professional promises, of course. The big leagues were a dream, sure, a flickering light somewhere out there in a youthful realm of possibility. But in Wanatah, you do what Manaea's father, Faaloloi, and mother, Opal, did -- you work and enjoy your family and then work a little more. Some way, something good will turn out. It's the deepest shade of blue-collar stories.

But Manaea is self-aware; he's not oblivious to the stage he's stepping on this spring. It just feels that way because of his personality and the nonchalance with which he describes his personal life and baseball career.

"He's a pretty happy-go-lucky guy," Indiana State pitching coach Tyler Herbst said. "He's not that fierce warrior every day of the week."

Herbst didn't really know what he was getting in Manaea three years ago. He knew the Sycamores had a chance to get a talented kid, but Manaea was nothing like he is now. He had a big frame and a good arm, but he didn't have great command of his fastball or even one reliable secondary pitch. He might as well have come with an instruction manual.

Some schools passed on him because of that -- the lack of certainty surrounding his talents -- and other schools passed on Manaea because of his grades and the fear he wasn't committed enough to stay eligible at a big university.

"School just wasn't a high priority for him," Herbst said. "He didn't work at it. But [assistant coach Brian] Smiley saw him at a showcase and said we should keep an eye on him, and he's a guy we could have a chance to get. So we took a flier on a talented left-hander and hoped he'd get better in the classroom, and he did. He's been low maintenance ever since."

It took Manaea until his senior year of high school -- almost too late in the recruiting cycle -- to understand the non-baseball responsibilities that come with chasing his baseball dream. He says his poor high school grades were due to pure laziness. He chose naps or video games before he chose homework. It was teenager stuff, not an actual character flaw.

So when he got to campus, got involved in the academic counseling program and adjusted relatively quickly, it wasn't a surprise. That pseudo-hurdle had been cleared, and now Herbst had a toy to play with. He showed Manaea a slider, and that pitch has continued to improve over the past two seasons. Then at the end of his sophomore season, when Manaea was searching for a third pitch, he asked roommate and fellow southpaw Tyler Pazik to show him his split-change grip. It was the first changeup grip that felt natural to Manaea.

He now had three legitimate weapons to take to the Cape Cod League, and his draft stock boomed. A mid-to-upper 90s fastball, a wipeout slider, a diving split-changeup -- the whole package peaked at the perfect time in the perfect place, as Manaea struck out 85 hitters in 57 1/3 innings last summer to put himself next to Stanford right-hander Mark Appel as the early leaders of the No. 1 overall discussion for the 2013 draft.

That buzz followed Manaea back to Terre Haute for his junior season. As the spotlight brightens, as the eager eyes of evaluators flock to Minneapolis this Friday, he continues to stay in his own world.

"When I pitch, inside I just feel chill," Manaea said. "I get a few songs in my head, and in between pitches, when I'm getting the ball back, I will sing those songs to myself. It keeps me in rhythm, and I have fun on the mound."

This is Manaea, a quirky lefty with an intuitive mind. He can sense when he's mentally unraveling in a game and understands when to stop thinking and start singing.

"He's not an analytical guy by any means, but he's curious," Herbst said. "If you want to make a point, you need to tell him why. Then he's on board. He's trying to understand."

Manaea says he's ignoring everything involving the draft, and you can believe him or not. He looks ahead even if he doesn't admit it -- there are small glimpses.

His father has told him and his brother Dane, who graduated from Purdue last year, stories about his native Samoa, how beautiful it is there. Manaea has never been and says that's the first vacation spot he's taking his brother "when I have the money." So yes, his eyes look forward as he tries so hard to keep his mind in the present.

On Friday, in his first big evaluation of the draft season, Manaea will be concerned with two things: throwing straight gas and being straight chill.

Manaea, Windle in first-round showdown (March 16, 2013)

From Keith Law: 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 outings 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 mph 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, had no significant action to it. The fastball plays and the velocity come 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 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.

Prep arms may dominate late first round (April 4, 2013)

From Jason A. Churchill: Indiana State southpaw Sean Manaea started the season as a potential No. 1 pick, and while that remains a possibility due to the way clubs approach their bonus allotments, he hasn't shown the stuff of an elite college arm. He likely has been passed on draft boards by at least one or two of his fellow college starters, namely Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray and perhaps even Nevada's Braden Shipley.

The return of Austin Wilson (April 8, 2013)

From Christopher Crawford: It has been a disappointing year for Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea, and then came news that he would miss his start on Friday because of a hip strain. Manaea was able to throw on Sunday and went six shutout innings with nine strikeouts and no walks, but it created a concern with a few scouts I talked to.

"Hip injuries can just be such a lingering issue," a National League scout said. "Even if it's mild and creates just a little bit of discomfort, it's something to keep an eye on because they have this nasty habit of coming back. [I'm] not saying that it's a reason not to draft a kid, but it's more homework for a club to do and can put doubt in a club's mind."

Future 50 (April 18, 2013)

From Keith Law: (Manaea ranks No. 4 in the Future 50.) It has been a good spring for Manaea, but he hasn't been as dominant as he was on the Cape last summer, which might speak to his high floor, with the potential for something more if last season's version returns. He has pitched at 90-94 mph most of the spring and misses a lot of bats with the fastball. It's not a great delivery, and the slider has been more average than plus, but this is the best college lefty in the draft, and he should go pretty high.

2013 draft profile (with scouting grades)

From Christopher Crawford: Manaea was nowhere on the prospect map until he went to the Cape Cod League last summer and started hitting 96 mph with a plus slider, putting up numbers that rival those of the best pitchers in the Cape League's history, including 85 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings against just seven walks and 21 hits.

He hasn't shown the same caliber of stuff this spring, working more at 89-94, commanding it well to both sides of the plate and getting a ton of swings and misses on the pitch because hitters don't pick up the ball out of his hand. His slider has been more solid-average on balance, but is very inconsistent and it's often underthrown rather than the long, biting pitch he showed on the Cape.

Both his slider and straight changeup are in the 78-82 mph range, but neither is an out pitch right now for pro hitters. Manaea has good arm speed on the change but, despite a split-like grip, it has no significant action on it. Manaea's arm isn't especially quick, but he generates velocity by taking a 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, a little above that of Madison Bumgarner.

Manaea profiles more as a league-average big league starter right now, but a team that thinks he can recapture his look from the summer of 2012 might take him higher than that in the draft.

Law's Mock Draft 1.0 (May 15, 2013)

From Keith Law: I'm hearing that the Royals are focused on college arms, including Manaea and [Braden] Shipley.

Gray impresses, remains likely top pick (May 27, 2013)

From Christopher Crawford: Sean Manaea's stock continues to plummet. The Indiana State left-hander didn't throw a single pitch before leaving with what the school is calling "shoulder tightness," and inconsistent velocity and secondary offerings had already diminished the top-five chances that Manaea had before the season began.

"He's not a first-round prospect to me," an NL scout said. "I don't see how he can be. When your fastball is sitting mid 80s a couple of weeks ago with a 45 [on the 20-80 scouting scale] slider and 50 change, that's a back-end starter. I'm not taking a back-end starter in the first 30 picks.

"I almost never say this, but if I was Manaea, I would go back to school and see if I can re-establish myself. It's a risk because the 2014 class is so much better, but maybe if he's back throwing 96, he can go in the first round."

Law's Big Board (May 31, 2013)

New ranking: 10 (down from 8). A huge wild card, Manaea starred last summer in the Cape Cod League but fought a sore hip nearly all spring, walking off the mound in pain at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, and he could fall out of the first round.

Second-round highlights (June 7, 2013)

From Jason Churchill: Manaea is likely to receive a bonus well above the MLB recommendation for this pick, and it appears the Royals have planned for such, selecting Hunter Dozier at No. 8 overall, who likely will sign for well below slot. Expect Manaea to sign, but it could be a tough negotiation as he was considered a top-five talent entering the year who fell because of a nagging hip injury.

Draft winners and questions (June 7, 2013)

From Keith Law: The Kansas City Royals over-drafted infielder Hunter Dozier (eighth overall) with their first pick, but made the strategy clear by taking Sean Manaea with the first pick in the competitive balance round, 34th overall. Manaea finished the year 10th on my board, which assumes the hip injury that ruined his junior year has no long-term effects. If that's the case, this is a tremendous buy-low opportunity, and ending Day 1 with Manaea, Dozier and projectable JC lefty Cody Reed is a very good draft.

Law's Top 10 prospects: AL Central (Jan. 31, 2014)

From Keith Law: Manaea had hip surgery right after signing with the Royals, and if there's still 96 mph in that arm as there was in the summer of 2012, before the injury, he'll be in the overall top 25 next winter.

Fresh looks at Manaea, Mondesi, Alfaro (April 10, 2014)

From Keith Law: Manaea made his pro debut Tuesday night, throwing 60 pitches before he was lifted once he hit his limit. Manaea was the Royals' second pick in the 2013 draft, 34th overall. He seemed to be a potential top-10 pick before he suffered an injury to the hip labrum in his start last March at the late, unlamented Metrodome. ...

Manaea hit 88 to 92 mph Tuesday night, touching 94 and dipping to 88-90 in his last inning, but the tremendous deception in his delivery had hitters swinging through his fastball for much of the outing. He walked the leadoff man, then blew through the next three hitters, filling up the strike zone for the rest of the night. His slider was big, coming in at 79-80 mph, and was a weapon for him against both left- and right-handed hitters. However, it was not a plus pitch on this particular night, because the break wasn't that sharp or late. He threw a few changeups, 81-84 mph, cutting some while others showed downward fade.

Manaea's delivery isn't clean, providing him with deception but raising concerns about durability. His arm swing is long, and he's still getting his arm into position when his front foot lands. He does repeat it, though, which is how he can show this kind of above-average command, and he finishes well over his front side. He looks to be a mid-rotation starter, but he has hit 96 in the past and could raise his projection if he can show that kind of velocity on a regular basis.

Scouting Royals, White Sox prospects (July 29, 2014)

From Keith Law: Wilmington lefty Sean Manaea looked better than he did when I saw him in April, showing a more fluid delivery, better use of his legs and a little more velocity. Manaea started out at 90-93 mph and finished at 88-92 in the fifth inning, mixing both four-seamers and two-seamers, along with an above-average 78-80 mph slider that varied between a true slider and a slurve. He barely used his changeup, preferring to backdoor the slider to right-handed hitters or just put it in the dirt and see if they'd chase. He walked four in five innings, although I wouldn't call the outing "wild," as he seemed to lose the zone in the top of the third and walked three in that half-inning, but he was otherwise around the plate the rest of his outing.

Prospects who just missed Top 100 (January 31, 2015)

From Keith Law: Manaea's ability to miss bats is a huge point in his favor; I just worry about how he does it, with average to above-average stuff but no truly plus pitch. It's very hard to pick the ball up out of Manaea's hand, as he hides it well behind his torso, but he's pitching mostly at 90 to 93 mph with a good but not wipeout slider. I think he's a big league starter, for sure, but I'm not sure how high his ceiling is unless the slider or the much-improved changeup becomes an out pitch.

Aaron Nola shows plenty of promise (July 21, 2015)

From Eric Longenhagen: One prospect for whom durability is becoming an increasing concern is Royals lefty Sean Manaea, whose malady rap sheet includes hip, groin and abdominal injuries. He has been enigmatic since returning from his latest DL stint. In his first start back, Manaea looked rusty but solid, showing very little feel for his secondary offerings but pounding the bottom of the strike zone with a fastball in the 93-95 mph range for all five innings of his appearance. It was an encouraging start to his season. More recently for my colleague Keith Law, Manaea had issues holding his velocity, sitting 90-91 as his outing in Wilmington progressed. He was moved up to Double-A and allowed four runs over three innings Tuesday.

Zobrist could turn into huge addition for Royals (July 28, 2015)

From Keith Law: Whether this is a good return for Oakland or a great one depends on exactly what version of Sean Manaea they're getting. While Eric Longenhagen saw great velocity when Manaea made a rehab start in Arizona, I saw Manaea just two weeks ago, and he couldn't hold that velocity at all, pitching at 89-91 mph in the fifth inning before he was pulled. He hides the ball well and his slider is consistently above-average, but the changeup is too firm and he has now missed time in pro ball with hip labrum surgery (dating to college), a strained abdominal muscle and a groin injury. These physical obstacles have limited him to 153 innings over the 24 months since he signed (all coming since the start of 2014). The deception and the slider are probably enough for him to be a starter even with a fastball that's just average, assuming he can handle the workload.

Dodgers' Julio Urias is best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball (September 3, 2015)

From Tommy Rancel: Manaea is another southpaw starter traded by the Royals in advance of the July 31 deadline. The No. 34 pick in the 2013 draft has battled several injuries to this point in his career. Luckily for him, none have involved his left arm. He works in the low-to-mid 90s with a slider and a changeup; the off-speed pitch has come along nicely thanks to some advice from Royals' reliever Ryan Madson. Manaea has pitched well with his new organization and has posted three starts without surrendering an earned run. If he improves his control, he could be in the A's rotation at some point next season.

Arizona Fall League primer: Factoids, players to watch (September 6, 2015)

Athletics lefty Sean Manaea is a walking, 6-foot-5 question mark. His already-lengthy injury résumé grew into a novella when his season got off to a late start because of abdomen and groin issues. He came back strong, sitting 93-95 mph late into a rookie-ball rehab start in Phoenix, before sitting a few grades below that in front of colleague Keith Law a few weeks afterwards. Manaea has been dominant again since the trade, and he struck out 13 batters for Double-A Midland on Thursday night. Hopefully he displays some modicum of consistency this fall.

AFL scouting notes (October 23, 2015)

From Keith Law: Manaea opposed [Nick] Travieso, and was almost as impressive. Manaea was mostly 93-95 mph other than late in a long third inning, when he dipped toward 91, and his 80-82 slider was tough on lefties but also a weapon he'd use down and in to right-handed batters. I saw Manaea make a rehab start in Wilmington in mid-July, not long before he was traded, but this time Manaea looked looser and easier, with better extension out over his front side. Hitters still don't see the ball well out of his hand, and the later release point can only help the deception. His changeup was below average, and I'd still like to see him hold his velocity better, although he did so better in this outing than in July.

Law's Top 100 prospects (February 8, 2016)

From Keith Law: (Manaea ranked No. 59 in Keith's Top 100.) Manaea came over in the Ben Zobrist deal at the trade deadline, barely a month after his 2015 debut, which had been delayed by injuries to an abdominal muscle and to his groin. Manaea was the Royals' second first-round pick in 2013, falling because of a torn hip labrum that required surgery after he signed, but the team's gamble paid off, as Manaea has struck out more than a batter per inning everywhere he has pitched, including a successful stint in the AFL this past fall.

Manaea has hit 96 mph but really pitches at 90-94 with great deception. The ball can look as if it's coming out the side of his uniform, which has to make for a very uncomfortable at-bat for a left-handed hitter. His slider is long with big tilt, often out of the zone, but it's effective against both left- and right-handed hitters; he'll backfoot it to the latter group even in changeup counts. He has a changeup, 84-86, that can get a little firm and clearly has more confidence in the slider.

Manaea has never had trouble throwing strikes, although it's very much control over command. It might always be that way with the long arm swing. But he was much looser and easier in the Arizona Fall League than at any point since he first tore his hip labrum in March 2013. He's definitely a starter, probably a good league-average one, but possibly a bit more if that deception keeps playing.

Maeda looks like back-of-rotation starter (March 11, 2016)

From Keith Law: Manaea was 91-95 mph in a three-inning relief stint Thursday, showing the best changeup I've seen from him: 83-85 mph with great arm speed. It was more effective in this outing than his big slider at 77-80 mph, which was too long and frequently finished out of the strike zone. Manaea still has great deception in his delivery -- I imagine it's very uncomfortable to hit against him as a left-handed hitter -- and while this velocity was great, I've never seen him hold this level for more than four innings, so I don't want to overreact to a shorter-than-normal appearance. There's a good chance he ends up with three above-average pitches.

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