Manaea's cool exterior masks inner fire
Indiana State southpaw tries to keep an even keel and prove himself once again
The ride to the First-Year Player Draft can be a roller coaster. Few know that better than Indiana State pitcher Sean Manaea.
Manaea went undrafted out of high school. He was not the most focused of young men, and he wasn't heavily recruited. He was, however, a tall left-hander with some arm strength, so Indiana State took a chance.
He was good, but not great, over his first two seasons with the Sycamores. Then he went to the Cape Cod League, where he was absolutely dominant and was named the top pitcher and top pro prospect of the elite summer college league.
He carried that over to the start of the 2013 season, showing the kind of pure stuff that put him in the mix at the very top of the Draft, a candidate to go No. 1 overall. But then he hit a bit of a stumbling block, struggling with a hip issue and scuffling on the mound at perhaps the most inopportune time, making teams with picks in the top part of the first round pause. That put more weight on his last couple of starts.
Manaea's response to it all? At least outwardly, it's been some version of "no worries."
"Everything I do in life, I just go with the flow," Manaea said. "Whatever happens, happens. That's what I learned from my parents. I've been that way my entire life."
In the nature vs. nurture argument, Manaea might fall right in the middle. It's apparent that the even-keeled apple didn't fall very far from his father's tree.
"My dad is a pretty chill dude and doesn't worry about things too much," Manaea said. "I guess I get that from him. I feel most other Samoans are like that."
It would be a mistake, though, to misinterpret that external laid-back philosophy. He might not concern himself with all of the attention that's come his way or what the scouting industry is thinking about him at any given moment, but that doesn't mean he isn't fueled by his own expectations. Take the fact he was largely overlooked out of high school as a prime example.
"Coming out of high school, no one really wanted me and I think that motivated me to prove them wrong," Manaea said. "That's helped me out a lot. I wanted to prove every other school wrong, say, 'You could've had me.' That's motivation for me.
"I am very competitive. But when I talk to people, I don't show it. I try to keep a level head. But I feel, to myself, I have to go out and do well."
That's been tougher to do lately for Manaea, even though he has a 1.47 ERA and a batting average against well below .200. The hip problem has kept him from being the pitcher he really believes he's capable of being, and his stuff, most notably a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, had been down a couple of notches. Learning how to play and succeed when not feeling 100 percent is a necessity at the highest levels, though it's often not a lesson served up until faced with the long grind of a pro season. Manaea knows he might be better off long-term because of the experience, but the frustration of not being at his best at this time of year clearly has impacted him.
"I think it can help me a lot, but right now it's stressful because it's happening right before the Draft," Manaea admitted. "I feel like it will. But right now, it's happening at the worst time. If I can push through this and finish off the season on a good note, everything will happen the right way."
Scouts who saw him pitch on May 10 against Alcorn State think perhaps that good note is on its way. Manaea's velocity was back up, and while he hasn't shown the kind of arsenal he had at his disposal in the Cape, he's moving in the right direction. He followed that up with five innings on Thursday against Bradley, his final regular-season start of the year. Manaea gave up one unearned run on five hits, walking two and striking out five. He was on a 60-pitch limit because conference tournament play begins on Tuesday. The reports -- 89-93-mph fastball, inconsistent slider -- were similar to his Alcorn State start.
"My hip is doing a lot better," Manaea said before Thursday's start, pointing to the improved mental approach he developed in the Cape as a big reason for his ability to push through this period. "I'm prepared a lot better. I think things are heading in the right direction. Hopefully, these last starts I have will be the best I have."
If that happens, Manaea should be able to cement himself as one of the top college pitchers in the Draft, one who shouldn't have to wait long to hear his name called. But other than the understanding of the calendar, of what this time of year means, Manaea is trying to apply his usual "no worries" philosophy to his thoughts about the Draft.
"I think about it, but I don't want to think about it too much because if I do, I think I'll get frustrated if I don't have a good start and that will carry over to the next one," Manaea explained. "I'm trying not to worry about it too much.
"I haven't looked at anything. My mom and dad post articles and stuff about me on Facebook, but I refuse to look at them. I don't feel I should."