TERRE HAUTE —
The development and growth of a pitcher can be a gradual thing, a combination of accruing physical tools and escalating mental toughness.
Or as, Yogi Berra put it, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”
Indiana State junior Sean Manaea has returned to campus after a summer to remember in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
The addition of a change-up and a jump in velocity in his fastball — and possibly the addition of a mustache? — helped Manaea to dominate some of the best hitting prospects in all of college baseball.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound left-hander was named The Cape’s Pitcher of the Year after throwing 52 innings with 85 strikeouts and a 1.22 earned-run average. Opponents batted just .119 against Manaea, who was also named Summer Player of the Year by Perfect Game USA.
“I saw maybe four balls squared up all year off him,” Hyannis Hawks manager Chad Gassman told Baseball America. “It was almost like he put it on autopilot and said ‘I’ll see you in the eighth inning.’”
Manaea said his gains in velocity were a surprise to him when arrived for his first appearance in June.
“It just happened I guess. The whole spring I felt like I was 88-92 [mph]. Then 96 showed up on the scoreboard and I was like ‘that was pretty cool.’”
Manaea threw between 94 and 96 all summer long, which was great news to Indiana State coach Rick Heller, who has already sent several pitching prospects to the minor leagues in his short tenure at ISU. Jake Petricka went in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft, but Manaea has given himself a chance to become the highest Sycamore to be drafted.
One scout told the Cape Cod Times that Manaea ranks among his top three prospects for next year’s draft.
“That was just a great thing to have one of the best seasons in Cape Cod history. It popped for him this summer. It’s great for Sean. Great for the program with all the attention he’s gotten,” Heller said. “He has a chance to be a top overall pick. He’s did everything he needed to do.”
Developing a change-up was tops on Manaea’s priorty list for the summer. Manaea toyed with the circle-change the fall before his sophomore season at ISU, but it never clicked with him. Late in the spring, he tried a change-up with a splitter grip that he learned from a teammate.
“It was a lot easier to hold and throw than the circle change. I didn’t know what to do with that [circle change],” Manaea said.
Apparently, neither did the hitters in The Cape. Manaea’s combination of a powerful fastball and sharp slider and change-up made him nearly unhittable.
“We wanted him to be more efficient with his pitches and improve his secondary stuff. He pitched like a first-round draft pick. He’s a guy that can throw three pitches for strikes,” Heller said.
Manaea was no slouch for Heller as a sophomore, striking out 116 and walking 37 in 105 innings, but opponents hit .248 against him and he had a 3.34 ERA. Manaea struggled early in games, especially early in the season.
“I had a lot higher expectations. I was mediocre at best, I felt I could have done a lot better, but it’s all one step at a time because my freshman year was absolutely horrible. Just keep improving. Hopefully my junior year is good,” Manaea said.
Manaea became a strong starter and a strong finisher this summer, Gassman told Perfect Game USA.
“He shocked us this summer with the way he was finishing guys off at 1-2 and 0-2 counts. That was the thing the Indiana State coaches were so impressed with. “In the past he’d go 2-2, 3-2 and let the hitter foul a bunch of pitches off. Not this summer. He only was getting to 85-90 pitches in the eighth inning at times. He did a tremendous job of improving that aspect of his game.”
Manaea credits that mental approach to the game, the bulldog mentality it takes to be a highly successful pitcher.
“My confidence was a lot better going out there. I wasn’t looking at who they were, the name on the jersey. I wasn’t even worrying about them. I was worrying about me and my catcher, throwing the ball to the glove. I’ve got to work on that this spring, and have the same confidence I had this summer,” Manaea said last week.
Experience gained over the last two years, including the 2011 summer pitching for Dubois County in the Prospect League, has helped him make improvements on how to attack hitters.
“Definitely, just facing all these really good hitters, going through all the ups and downs of baseball. If I didn’t have that, I’d be mediocre. Just having those downs I went through my freshman year, it was good for me,” Manaea said.
Manaea arrived at ISU a tall but skinny prospect out of Northwest Indiana who topped out at 87 miles-per-hour. Manaea pitched three years for South Central High School in Wanatah before helping Andrean to a Class 3A state championship.
Training with the ISU strength and conditioning staff has played a part as well.
“It’s huge because I didn’t really work out in high school. Just coming here the first couple workouts, I was so dead,” Manaea said. “They killed me. I’m a lot stronger than I was my freshman year. That helped me a lot, has helped me gain velocity.”
That all-around strength is key for a pitcher, he said.
“Keeping body balance, having a strong core is important for that. Working out the legs too because you push off the mound. Just having an overall strong body,” Manaea said.
Another thing that helps Manaea as an elite pitching prospect is his pickoff move. He picked off seven runners during his sophomore year at ISU, while runners were just 2-of-9 on stolen base attempts.
Manaea is just ready to keep working on improving. He’ll still have to have a dominant spring to be picked as high as some are projecting.
“I’m really excited to get out there this spring. Just keep pitching how I have been, not try to change anything. Can’t get a big head like that. I’m just trying to be normal Sean,” he said.
As for being a potential first-rounder, he’s not getting into the hype that’s built up.
“I’m not trying to worry about that. I’m just wanting to go out and pitch. It’d be real awesome to get drafted, trying not to worry about it. Just go out and have fun,” Manaea said.
Sounds good to coach Heller, who has his ace but will need to replace two other weekend starters.
“It brings to light all we’ve been able to do over the last few years with developing players. People have taken notice. It’s good for all of us,” Heller said. “It’s a very big deal, what he accomplished this summer. Another positive is that Sean is more confident in himself. He’s grown up a lot. He’s handled himself well. Best of all, he’s a good guy.”