TERRE HAUTE — On the eve of the Major League Baseball Draft, Sean Manaea is a mystery for most of the baseball world and Manaea’s fans.
Their mystery is Manaea’s reality. No one knows where the talented Sycamore left-hander will be selected during tonight’s MLB Draft … if he gets picked in the first round at all.
“I think he’s probably ready for it to be all over with and make a decision on his future. It was disappointing to him to have the injuries he had this season. He handled all of the pressures well,” Indiana State baseball coach Rick Heller said.
There is no consensus as to where Manaea might be drafted. Some experts still have him being chosen among the top 20 picks. Some don’t have him being picked in the first round at all.
It’s the culmination of a turbulent spring for the ISU southpaw. No player has moved up or down the MLB Draft board as much as Manaea has since the end of the 2012 summer season. After throwing in the mid-to-high 90s in the Cape Cod League last summer, the Wanatah native was projected as a top-five draft pick, possibly even the first overall.
Then things started to go wrong. Manaea was injured in a game at Minnesota on March 15. Initially feared to have an ankle injury after he turned it covering home plate, it was his right hip that proved to be the more lasting injury. According to Heller, Manaea had trouble with the hole he was landing in on the Metrodome mound and that Manaea didn’t initially believe the injury — which turned out to be a right hip flexor — to be serious enough to warrant attention.
But as the 2013 campaign rolled on, Manaea’s pain increased. He received a cortisone shot in early May that gave him temporary relief, but the pain had returned by the end of the Missouri Valley Conference season.
He was slated to start ISU’s MVC Tournament opener against Creighton, but that’s when things really started to go wrong. Manaea threw three warm-up pitches at Illinois State, then he doubled over in pain.
He was removed from the contest without throwing an official pitch as MLB scouts scurried out of Duffy Bass Field to ascertain the problem.
This time, Manaea’s pain came from from shoulder tightness. The junior would not pitch for the re-mainder of the MVC Tournament as ISU was eliminated one game short of the title contest.
The shoulder issue added more doubt about Manaea. His fastball velocity slipped back into the low 90s for ISU this spring, but was it his hip or was it a loss of speed?
“He was disappointed at that stage and that was really the only time I thought he might have been a little depressed, but he bounced out of it quickly,” Heller said.
Heller has not spoken with Manaea this week — efforts to reach Manaea via phone or text for this story were unsuccessful — but he did believe the shoulder problem should be a non-issue for any teams that want to kick the tires on Manaea.
“From what I know, his shoulder is fine. He has had no pain,” Heller said. “We planned to throw him had we made it to Saturday of the MVC Tournament if he was OK to pitch.”
Adding drama and uncertainty to Manaea’s situation is Major League Baseball’s draft slot system for early-round draft picks and Manaea’s advisor Scott Boras. All MLB teams have a pool of money they’re allowed to pay draft picks from, with values assigned for the first 10 rounds. If a team exceeds its value, it has to pay a sizable luxury tax.
Boras is also the advisor for Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. After Appel refused to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates last summer, he went back to Stanford for his senior year with the idea of improving his draft stock, and, his draft slot value. The plan likely worked — Appel is slotted as a top-five pick after being chosen eighth in 2012.
There is speculation that Manaea could return to ISU should his draft stock slip too low.
“He’s welcome back here if he decides not to sign,” Heller said.
Despite the injury woes, Manaea still had a 1.47 earned-run average and held opponents to a .190 batting average this spring. He struck out 93 batters against 27 walks in 73 1⁄3 innings.
The remainder of the MLB Draft continues Friday and Saturday. Heller said other Sycamores could be drafted as well, including a few that might surprise some fans. Pitcher Devin Moore, first baseman Robby Ort and third baseman Koby Kraemer are all draft eligible. So are center fielder Landon Curry and pitcher Greg Kuhlman as they are both eligible as 21-year-olds.
“Devin, Robby and Koby all have a chance to get drafted. I’ve been making calls to make sure the scouts keep their eyes on them. Curry and Kuhlman are draft age eligible. They’re long shots, but might get a look,” Heller said.