Scouts flocked to the Metrodome on March 15 expecting to see one of the top five prospects for this Thursday’s major league draft.
Indiana State lefthander Sean Manaea was a strong candidate to go to the Twins at No. 4, but he wasn’t as electrifying that night against the Gophers as he had been last summer in the Cape Cod League.
As weeks passed, and Manaea’s draft stocked continued sinking, it was clear something happened. He twisted an ankle that night, celebrating a 2-1 complete-game victory, but that injury healed within a week.
It turns out, Manaea suffered a more sinister injury at the Dome, that one to his right hip.
“The hole he was landing in, on the mound, was at a bit of an angle, and it was just kind of uncomfortable — not enough to come out of the game,” Indiana State coach Rick Heller said. “For a week, he didn’t say much about the hip, but it basically affected him the rest of the year.”
Manaea still put up some impressive numbers, going 5-4 with a 1.47 ERA. He held opponents to a .190 batting average and had 93 strikeouts and 27 walks in 73⅓ innings.
But on May 21, Manaea was slated to pitch against Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. He walked off the mound because of shoulder stiffness.
ESPN draft analyst Keith Law ranked Manaea as this draft’s No. 2 prospect heading into the season, but in his latest mock drafts, Law no longer has Manaea going in the first round.
“I feel badly for the kid because it’s about as badly as the spring could have gone for him,” Law said.
It is costing Manaea millions. Baseball’s assigned slot value for the No. 1 overall pick is $7.8 million. At No. 4, for the Twins, it’s $4.5 million. By No. 33 — the final pick of the first round — it’s $1.7 million.
Manaea will have the leverage of being able to return for his senior year at Indiana State, and Law said that might be his best option.
“If somebody with extra picks or extra money offers him $2 million — yeah, he should probably take it because anything can happen,” Law said. “But if he goes back next year, he could easily make $2.5 million — $3 million, just by being healthy.”
Manaea, 21, is being advised by Scott Boras, the same agent who helped steer Mark Appel back to Stanford after he slipped to the Pirates at No. 8 in last year’s draft. Appel ranks second in Law’s latest mock draft.
“Sean’s a level-headed kid, so no one’s going to take advantage of him,” Heller said of Manaea, who could continue pursuing his sports management degree. “He’s seen others do it before. Appel is a good example. He might double his money.”
At this time last year, Manaea was going the opposite direction, soaring up everyone’s projected draft boards in the Cape. His fastball was clocked at 98 miles per hour and consistently hit 95-96.
“It definitely was a huge shock to me because a couple weeks before that, I was like 89-92,” Manaea said in mid-March. “And then the first game in the Cape, I was like 95-96. It was crazy. I wasn’t confident in myself, and I don’t know, something clicked, and I just started believing in myself.”
Manaea had been an unheralded prospect when Heller recruited him out of Wanatah, Ind.
“We knew he had a lot of potential,” Heller said. “I wouldn’t say he was a risk. He was a 6-5 lefthander with a real loose arm, a mid-80s guy. A lot depended on how hard he worked. Luckily for us, he was outstanding.”
Manaea helped lead the Sycamores to the NCAA tournament last year, but this year, they finished 26-25 and lost in the conference tournament. After getting scratched from his May 21 start, Manaea hoped to be ready to pitch four days later, but by then his team had been eliminated.
The lefthander could not be reached for comment to talk about the end of his season.
“I think he was really disappointed he couldn’t pitch for us in the tournament,” Heller said. “We were hoping to win that and go back to the regionals for the second straight year. He was really down. It was a frustrating year for him and for us.”