Oakland Athletics Prospect Sean Manaea Struggles In AFL

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On July 28th, left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea was sent to the Oakland Athletics’ organization after the Kansas City Royals won the Ben Zobrist sweepstakes. Zobrist was one of the most sought-after trade pieces over the summer, so A’s fans expected the return on their super-utility player to be high.

Manaea has made ten starts since joining the A’s organization. Seven of them came in Double-A Midland, and he has tacked on three more in Arizona as part of the Mesa Solar Sox. These ten starts are bringing Manaea closer to a meaningful sample size upon which the organization will be able to evaluate the young pitcher.

Manaea dominated the Texas League in his seven starts with Midland. He finished the season with a 6-0 record, 1.90 ERA, and 1.15 WHIP. He was also awarded Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors twice since moving to Midland. This is what you want to see out of a prospect that was acquired at the expense of a top trade piece.

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Anyone who has been watching the Arizona Fall League might be feeling slightly less confident about the A’s new number three prospect, however. Although Manaea looked unstoppable in the Texas League, he has had a turbulent start to his fall season. Through three starts, he has completed 12 innings and given up a total of nine runs, which gives him an ERA of 6.75.

So was Manaea an overrated prospect that wasn’t worth the value of Zobrist? Not necessarily.

It is important to consider the context behind his performances. The Rockhounds play in a notoriously pitcher-friendly stadium that features a notch in left field that makes the field a bit deeper than the 330 feet listed on the foul pole. The 1.90 ERA he maintained in Midland probably isn’t sustainable in other ballparks, but it does show that he is full of talent.

It is also important to note his home versus away splits in his seven starts with Midland. He did pitch 11 innings in two games away from Midland’s Security Bank Ballpark where his ERA ticked up to 2.45, but I’m not about to start complaining about a 2.45 ERA. 

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So what’s happening to Manaea in Arizona right now? The answer might simply be that the Arizona Fall League is ruled by batters. As Chris Gigley of The Hardball Times noted, nine of MLB’s top 100 prospects are competing in the league this year, and only one of them is a pitcher (Cardinals’ Alex Reyes). This league is just absolutely stacked with hitters, and pitchers competing there are more likely focusing on tweaking their delivery or developing a new pitch than they are trying to post top-notch stats.

The most reasonable conclusion to draw from Manaea’s ten starts in the Athletics organization is that he probably isn’t as good as the 1.90 ERA says he is, but he is certainly far better than his three starts in Arizona.

Don’t panic. Manaea is an excellent pitcher that will be contributing to the big league club soon.

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